By Nicole Bayes-Fleming
Amir Zargari is wearing the clothes he designed himself and a pair of bright red Kanye West shoes. A grin stretches across his face as he begins to talk about his brand, Babes & Gents, which launched in July of last year. Zargari emigrated from Iran with his family when he was in Grade 9 and he attended Glebe Collegiate Institute. He admits he almost went to Toronto to start his clothing line, but stayed in Ottawa so he could have the support of his friends and contacts in the field. “Ottawa’s been good,” he says, “constantly showing love.”
Growing up, Zargari’s passion was always for fine arts and fashion. In high school he would show his paintings in Ottawa galleries and shop at boutique stores. After graduating, he spent time in the engineering programs at Waterloo University and the University of Ottawa, completing a co-op term at RBC in the IT department. But the lack of creativity permitted by the curriculum made him rethink his decision.
“In the first semester at Waterloo, I knew I wasn’t going to be an engineer so I made a list of all my hobbies. OK, these are all the things that make me happy and I do because it’s fun … so I should do these for a living. And the top two things that I spent a lot of time on were art and shopping, and reading about all the new clothes that were out – I was so into fashion news and street culture. So you take these and you combine everything and what do you get? You get a clothing line, with my art on the clothes. It just made perfect sense.”
It wasn’t an easy path from there. Big businesses told him to come back with his designs in a year, once he had established a fan base. His parents were not convinced that starting his own clothing line was the right choice for him. The first six months saw nearly no sales. But Zargari was determined, working a part-time job and using his savings to support his dream. As a result of his experience, he would like to see more encouragement from the public for young entrepreneurs like himself.
“It is easy for students who can’t afford to go to school to get money from the government.” Zargari says. “Anybody can get OSAP like that. It should be that easy for a young entrepreneur to get loans to start their business. Especially for young entrepreneurs who, instead of wanting to go to school, they want to start their own business.”
Zargari’s clothes are available at five shops in Ottawa and a few places in Toronto. The summer is his busiest season, as Zargari sells his clothes in the ByWard Market and at various shows in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. Online sales are rare but he has gotten a couple of out-of-town orders from the United States and Vancouver. He enjoys meeting customers face-to-face at shows and explaining his concept for the brand, which is based on passion, inspiration and “warrior-like strength.”
Zargari believes in giving back, and 10 per cent of all profits from his clothes go to charities.
“I was brought up that way,” he explains, “we’d have a jar in my house in Iran or here, and after we came home we’d put coins in it. It’s something I’ve always been around, helping the less fortunate, and I believe in karma – it’s going to come back some day in some shape or form.”
Babes & Gents’ latest line is the Paris Capsule collection, inspired by Kanye West. Zargari admires West’s infectious appeal and the star’s own interest in fashion. The Paris Capsule line took a year to come up with, and is a labour of love for Zargari. He admits that it is not about the money he makes, but the appreciation he gets from fans who understand the culture.
When asked about the time he felt the most pride in what he’s accomplished, Zargari laughs. “Too many proud moments,” he says, “every good thing that happens, you just feel so happy.”
Zargari’s next show will be at the 613 Night Market at the Ottawa Convention Centre on October 18.
Nicole Bayes-Fleming is a second-year journalism student at Carleton University and has contributed several articles to the Glebe Report.