Shahrouz Stefano Kalepari is one of the Iranian Jewish owners of the L.A. based “Italian Fashion Group” that sells custom-made Italian men’s suits. The success of his family-owned business has resulted in Hollywood costume makers and designers turning to him for their suit requirements. In preparation for my latest piece in the Journal, I recently sat down with Kalepari to discuss his business and life was an Iranian American Jewish businessman working in Downtown L.A.’s busy garment district. The following is just an portion of that interview…
What motivated your family to get into the garment business? And how has your business changed over years?
My family did business with Italy for almost 50 years and we have also lived there for almost 30 years. So we have been exposed to high fashion and gained many contacts within the fashion industry in Italy— this drew us closer to the industry. Our business is in constant evolution and our ready-made garments have suffered amidst the strong Euro and as a result of the having to compete against low quality and low costing Chinese suits. Fortunately for us today, more people are beginning to appreciate the value of a high quality suit again and are therefore willing to pay more to have a high quality produce that’s been made in Italy.
You specialize in both ready-made suits and custom-made high end Italian men’s suits, how successful have you been over the years with your line of products and what sets you apart from other designers?
We have specialized our company in the custom business after our ready-made line was steady and well established. Our custom-line, “Di Stefano” has become the pear of our company because the suits are high end and hand made. We did not expect it, but in the wholesale market in North American, this clothing line has been a tremendous success. “Di Stefano” is now worn by many celebrities and used in major television shows and motion pictures. Our suits are also sold in various high end specialty boutiques through out the U.S. Our custom suits are very different from a traditional designer line. We believe in the real meaning of custom made and let our customers fully customize their garments. We create any style they desire instead of imposing other designers’ tastes on the customer and I believe this has been the secret of our brand.
I understand many of your customers are in Hollywood and involved in costuming for television shows and films. Can you please share some information about what shows your suits have appeared in? Also how did you get into this niche line of work as I know it can be competitive?
We have simplified the life of the custom designers who are in charge of the shows or movies. We created garments for them that other custom houses are unable to offer them and we also offer unmatched service directly out of Italy. Designers know they can give us their design request and we create their garments to their liking with our quality and service. Some of the TV shows we currently work with are “The Mentalist”, “Law & Order L.A.”, “The Defenders” and “Castle”. Our major and most important motion picture project was the movie “The Great Debaters” staring Denzel Washington where we created the period suits of the 1930’s for the entire cast.
Can you share a little bit about your unique design, fabric selection and manufacturing processing? I am asking this because there are many companies that claim to provide “Italian suits” but in reality are selling knock-offs made in China.
Unfortunately we encounter this problem on a daily basis. The reality is that unfair competition with China combined with the lack of knowledge from customers makes it very frustrating at times. But high end quality speaks for itself and when a famous designer in Beverly Hills who sells top of the line Italian products turns around and uses our line of suits for his personal use— this gives us the utmost satisfaction that we have done things right! Our suits and shirts are 100% hand-made and the patters are designed from scratch for each individual order to create a very personal and customized fit for our customers. We use the most precious accessories such as horse hair canvas inside our suits, pure silk linings, and mother pearl buttons. Our fabric selection is strictly from the top three mills in Italy which are; Ermenegildo Zegna, Loro Piana and Vitale Barberis. On the other hand Chinese suits use fusing in their suits, polyester accessories and plastic buttons. This is where we count on the culture and knowledge of the customers to distinguish between a cheap Chinese product and a real high quality hand-made Italian product.
What has been the most challenging aspect of working the fashion industry and why do you think Iranian Jews in Southern California have been so successful the garment business?
The most challenging aspect of our industry is of course unfair competition from China which I mentioned earlier. Success for most Iranian Jews came thanks to their hard work and motivation. Our community has been successful in most industries they worked in, including the fashion industry. Many have made their fortune working with China and many like us have reached success thanks to high end Italian suits. Both products have different market demands and our community has been intelligent in fulfilling those demands.
What do you enjoy most about your line of work?
What I most enjoy is seeing our line of suits worn by famous fashion designers, important actors and seeing our products on both TV shows and motion pictures. When our suit designed for example for, Simon Baker for the Golden Globe awards is voted as the best designed suit on the red carpet— that’s amazing for us. Our when actors like Al Pacino, Terrence Howard, James Belushi, Denzel Washington or even NBA players call us to get a private appointment for being fitted for custom suits, that give us great satisfaction.