Student Proves to be a “Jenius”
Businessman with Clothing Line
The closest most 19-year-olds get to having their own clothing line is selling designer jeans at the mall. Ricky Bortz, a Kent State University student from Beachwood, Ohio, who recently completed his freshman year, is the exception.
His denim and clothing line, Jenius Jeans Label, launched in the summer of 2009 and is quickly growing into a full-time venture for the business management major.
However, this isn’t the first time that Bortz has been at the helm of a business he started himself. While in high school, he and a friend started a fashion website that featured celebrity news, movie and music clips and fashion reviews.
“It was like a Facebook for fashion,” Bortz says. “Kids could upload pictures of what they were wearing. We even had LeBron James and his friends posting videos.”
The site, which even received attention from designers like Gucci and Marc Jacobs, had 60,000 local Web hits and more than 250,000 international hits. When he graduated, Bortz sold his share of the website to his partner. He was ready for something bigger.
The idea for Jenius Jeans Label started when Bortz noticed the popularity of designer denim lines like True Religion, and the intricate pockets that signified the brand. He envisioned a line of jeans that had customizable pockets that could be removed and changed out at the wearer’s choice.
“My goal for the future is that kids can design their own pockets and upload and share them on the website,” Bortz says. “No other designer has ever done anything like this before.”
The process of starting his clothing line hasn’t come without its challenges. Bortz tried to pitch the idea to several companies, but had no samples to show. Through family connections, he finally found a woman in Turkey who manufactured the denim samples and sent them to the United States.
“I feel like all those businesspeople weren’t taking me seriously,” Bortz said. “But it’s the best feeling that I was able to find a manufacturer and launch the line. It’s like a slap in the face to them.”
Bortz is also in the process of securing a patent for the removable pocket idea, but that hasn’t been an easy process either.
“Something like this is hard to patent because it’s a function on a pocket,” he said. “It would be like trying to patent the zip fly on jeans.”
Jenius Jeans Label has been somewhat of a family affair for Bortz, whose parents have helped guide him through the business development process.
“My dad is a successful businessman and an artist,” Bortz said. “He’s helped me with lots of the legal stuff, and my mom is just really smart. It’s a good balance.”
In his short time at Kent State, Bortz has made many connections that have helped him through the process of launching his own business. While living on campus, Bortz met a visual communication design major, Kate Brandenstein, who designed the logos seen on Jenius Jeans Label’s merchandise and website.
In addition, the staff at the College of Business Administration’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation has assisted Bortz in developing his business.
“Julie Messing from the entrepreneurship program helped a lot,” he says. “She connected me with a studio when I needed a photo shoot. I’ve made a lot of connections at Kent State.”
In the midst of launching a clothing line and managing his own business, Bortz still has to balance being a college student.
“The hardest part has been managing school work,” he says. “Usually I focus on school during the week and the business on the weekends, and I can do both.”
Now, Bortz is spending that time on publicity and building his brand. Several local hip-hop artists have contacted him for sponsorships, and local musician Ash Jordan is already a fan of the line.
However, the reality of being the 19-year-old owner of a clothing line is still sinking in.
“It’s cool. Lots of people are already asking for free clothes,” Bortz says. “It’s a unique thing for kids my age to do, and I’ve been able to learn different aspects of running my own business. It’s proof that if you work hard, you can be successful at anything.”