Ari Jogiel-Schlam, B.S. business administration ’12, has taken the magic dust of his childhood dream of running a fashion brand to mold his launch platform into the fashion industry. He envisions building this launch pad into a full-blown empire—and with the rapid success of the mere beginnings of LEOPARDËT, his Los Angeles-based fashion brand that debuted in March of this year, the pillars of expansion are already forming, pulling his dreams of multinational success ever-closer into view.
What inspired you to create LEOPARDËT? Please tell us the background about your brand and what it stands for.
Ari Jogiel-Schlam: Growing up in a Mexican-Jewish community where fashion and aesthetics prevailed made me have great appreciation for clothing and dressing well. Ever since I was young I dreamed of having a brand, but with time and as you get older, you realize that things aren’t as easy as they sound—and letting go of these kind of dreams becomes very easy. It wasn’t till last year that I decided to give this shot. I was working a nine-to-five job that payed minimally, and I worked two other jobs on the side. So I knew I couldn’t live that kind of lifestyle for long, and that’s when I started the foundation of my brand. One of my jobs entailed going into retail stores and assuring that the sales numbers of my brands were moving. I would spend numerous hours at the mall going from store to store. That’s when it hit me that there was room for an opportunity for a new brand in the saturated market. A brand that would make premium clothing, but would have different values than the rest. I started designing leopard-print hats with the “LEOPARDËT” name embroidered on the front. The leopard was a unique animal just like my background, and LEOPARDËT (a made-up word) was my better, more fashionable and sophisticated version of a leopard.
Do you “Think Chapman First” (hire Chapman students or alumni)?
AJS: Last year I had Alana Eastling (B.A. communications ’16) intern for the brand and ever since, I liked the camaraderie and chemistry of working with Chapman students. She interned for the brand in the summer and was brought back to help launch our Kickstarter campaign, #theleap (launched Nov. 4, 2015). She’s in charge of the public relations and plays many other roles.
Justin Rypma (BFA film production ’18) is in charge of production, filming and bringing the video for #theleap to life.
Both are very talented and prove that Chapman is full of young, ambitious and intelligent students that are capable of accomplishing incredible things.
Part of your brand philosophy is to give back to the U.S. Can you tell us more about this?
AJS: The shift from USA to overseas manufacturing has been trending away over the last few years. Approximately 2% of clothing made in the United States is manufactured domestically. Thirty years ago, that number was 80%. American designers have diminished the integrity of the American brand, making things as cheaply and poorly as possible, and taking advantage of developing countries. I want to put a stop to that and show that it’s possible to have a brand with premium fashionable clothing and authentic values. That’s what #theleap by LEOPARDËT is all about. My vision a few years down the road is that a customer goes into the mall and he sees another brand’s shirt and ours, both being the same color, price and quality, but the only difference being the values of the brand.
We understand your parents weren’t exactly thrilled when you began to pursue a career in the fashion industry. Can you tell us about their evolving support?
AJS: At first my dad told me that I would never make any money selling hats and not to waste my time. And my mom just thought that it was another of my entrepreneurial endeavors, so she didn’t give much importance. But with time, they started supporting the brand after seeing that I was serious with LEOPARDËT and that being successful meant the world to me.
Where can consumers purchase and view LEOPARDËT’s products?