Former homeless fashion designers open clothing store in SoHo

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They went from rags to loot.

A pair of former Manhattan homeless are back in the Big Apple during New York Fashion Week to celebrate their new clothing line – a favorite of high-profile celebrities including Rihanna, Post Malone, Bella Hadid and Jay Z .

It’s a far cry from their old days in New York.

“We were homeless for about two years,” Jimbo Williams, co-designer of LaRopa, told The Post, explaining that he and his business partner Aristotle Sanchez frequently spent the night in subways or parks.

“I never felt unsafe,” said Williams, now 28. “Maybe the only dangerous thing was the rats. If you sleep in the park, they will try to crawl on you.

He and Sanchez, 22, came from Toronto to New York in 2016, with $ 500 and the clothes on their backs, determined to make their way as designers. They started with a group of artists from Canada, but their friends all returned north of the border after deciding that life on the streets was not for them.

Williams and Sanchez started LaRopa while homeless in Manhattan.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

When they were lucky, Williams and Sanchez snuck into a quiet area of ​​the Pennsylvania Hotel. Unused conference rooms were ideal, except when Williams’ snore alerted people to his presence. Sometimes the men would throw parties and meet local college kids willing to give them a night of radical-chic entertainment on their parents’ credit card.

“We slept in NYU and the girls checked us in in the dorms,” recalls Williams, a college dropout. (Sanchez dropped out of high school at age 17.)

A jacket from LaRopa.
A jacket from LaRopa.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

The couple – who are self-taught in terms of sewing and design skills – have spent their waking hours jostling each other in thrift stores and repurposing used clothes for sale on Instagram. Eventually, they created their own website.

They missed the Wi-Fi of a McDonald’s near Astor Place, spending hours on social media developing the brand.

“We used to sneak into NYU and use the film scanner in the Tisch building,” Sanchez recalls, saying the technology was invaluable in bringing out their early designs. “You ask someone to connect you and you polish it up a bit.”

Williams and Sanchez moved from Toronto to New York in 2016 to launch their brand.
Williams and Sanchez moved from Toronto to New York in 2016 to launch their brand.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

With their penchant for entrepreneurship, the couple said they had never shared much with other members of the city’s homeless population, many of whom either suffer from mental illness or “would just do heroin. “, as Williams said.

“Me and Jimbo were so determined. We felt deep in our hearts that we had to be in New York and stay no matter what, ”Sanchez said. “It takes a lot of courage to be broke and homeless and know it will be worth it one day. “

They named the brand LaRopa – in Spanish for “clothes -” because, said Sanchez, “we are the masters of the clothes.”

Bella Hadid wearing a LaRopa hat in New York City.
Bella Hadid wearing a LaRopa hat in New York City.
GC Images / Getty Images
Erika Jayne wearing a LaRopa shirt that says "P - builds strong bones."
Erika Jayne wearing a LaRopa shirt that says “P-sy Builds Strong Bones”.
Spartano / BACKGRID

Things took off around 2019 after rapper Playboi Carti started appearing on social media in their merch. A net of celebrities turned into a flood.

Eventually, there was enough stuff on the duo’s website to get them off the streets. But after an apartment in Brooklyn broke down, the designers took it as a sign and headed out west.

“We went to Los Angeles. The motels there are quite cheap and it was a big step in bringing us to a more stable way of life. And then we had a studio in LA, ”Sanchez told the Post.

Williams and Sanchez now employ 15 people and operate two stores in Los Angeles. They have a brand new store in Soho, which will open next month. Plans are underway for outposts in Las Vegas and Miami in 2022.

50 other stores around the world now carry their products, which are made in the United States. The line gained enough cult status in Los Angeles that someone spray-painted it outside the Chateau Marmont.

Jake Paul donned LaRopa during his brother’s infamous fight against Floyd Mayweather in June. Supermodel Hadid graces the company’s Instagram account in a LaRopa trucker hat and has also been pictured in her beanies.

Jake Paul wearing a LaRopa hat at a press conference ahead of his brother Logan Paul's boxing match with Floyd Mayweather.
Jake Paul wearing a LaRopa hat at a press conference ahead of his brother Logan Paul’s boxing match with Floyd Mayweather.
Larry Marano for NY Post

Incredibly, the designers did everything without outside investors. Williams credits “the power of people and the power of the Internet.” We had zero dollars, but we had PhotoShop and Instagram and a website, and people were buying our products.

Many threads are adorned with eye-catching slogans like “P – sy Builds Strong Bones”, their most famous logo.

“It means empowering women. It’s the easiest way to look at it, ”said Williams. “Without p – sy, none of us would be here. It is our ode to women.

La Ropa trucker hats that sell for between $ 80 and $ 250.
La Ropa trucker hats that sell for between $ 80 and $ 250.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

Although their store’s smooth opening takes place during iconic New York Fashion Week, the couple said their clothes rejected the “pretense” of the event.

That doesn’t mean their business is cheap, however. A denim jacket with 15 pockets sells for $ 2,000. Trucker hats sell for between $ 80 and $ 250. A signature “P — y Builds Strong Bones” rhinestone tee costs $ 100, with a tank top version available for $ 60.

LaRopa's Soho boutique opens its doors just before New York Fashion Week.
LaRopa’s Soho boutique opens its doors just before New York Fashion Week.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

Williams said the ideal client is “young, free-spirited, stylish” and ready to “challenge authority.” New age punk kids.

He gives them a little advice on life: “Never give up. If you have a dream and you can see it, you can make it come true.

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