They went from rags to swag.
A pair of formerly homeless Manhattanites return to the Big Apple during New York Fashion Week to celebrate their new clothing line – a favorite of high profile celebrities such as 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,” LaRopa co-designer Jimbo Williams told The Post, explaining that he and his business partner Aristotle Sanchez frequently spent nights 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 to New York from Toronto in 2016, with $500 and the clothes on their backs, determined to make their mark as designers. They started with a group of performers from Canada, but their friends all moved back north of the border after deciding street life wasn’t for them.
When they got lucky, Williams and Sanchez would close their eyes in a quiet area of the Hotel Pennsylvania. Unused conference rooms were ideal, except when Williams’ snores alerted people to his presence. Sometimes the men threw parties and met local college kids willing to give them a night of radical-chic entertainment on their parents’ credit card.
“We slept at NYU and the girls checked us into the dorms,” recalls Williams, a college dropout. (Sanchez left high school at 17.)
The couple – who are self-taught in terms of sewing and design skills – have spent their waking hours hustling at thrift stores and repurposing used clothes to sell on Instagram. Eventually, they created their own website.
They knocked out the Wi-Fi at a McDonald’s near Astor Place, spending hours on social media building the brand.
“We used to sneak into NYU and use the film scanner in the Tisch building,” Sanchez recalled, saying the technology was invaluable in getting their early designs out. “You ask someone to connect and you tweak it a bit.”
With their entrepreneurial spirit, the two men said they had never collaborated much with other members of the city’s homeless population, many of whom suffer from mental illness or “would just inject 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. will be worth it one day.”
They named the brand LaRopa – Spanish for “clothing” – because, Sanchez said, “we are the masters of clothing.”
Things took off around 2019 after rapper Playboi Carti started popping up on social media in their merch. A trickle of celebrities turned into a flood.
Eventually, there was enough business on the duo’s website to get them off the streets. But after an apartment in Brooklyn failed, the designers took it as a sign and headed west.
“We went to Los Angeles. The motels there are pretty cheap and that was a big step in getting us to a more stable lifestyle. 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 more 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 honors the company instagramaaccount in a LaRopa trucker hat and was also photographed in his beanies.
Incredibly, the designers did everything without outside investors. Williams credits “the power of people and the power of the internet. We had no dollars, but we had PhotoShop and Instagram and a website, and people were buying our products.
Many threads are adorned with catchy slogans like “P-sy Builds Strong Bones”, their most famous logo.
“It means female empowerment. That’s the simplest way to look at it,” Williams said. “Without p-sy, none of us would be here. This is our ode to women.
Although their store’s soft opening takes place during the iconic New York Fashion Week, the pair said their clothes reject the “pretentiousness” of the event.
That doesn’t mean their products are cheap, though. A 15-pocket denim jacket sells for $2,000. Trucker hats sell for between $80 and $250. A “P—y Builds Strong Bones” signature rhinestone tee is $100, with a tank top version available for $60.
Williams said the ideal client is “young, free-spirited, stylish” and ready to “question authority.” New Age punk kids.
He gives them a little life advice: “Never give up. If you have a dream and you can see it, you can achieve it.