Fashion: Divine inspiration

A Jewish (and Israeli) inspired clothing line takes off in Los Angeles

The 'Old Soul' T-shirt for the Akiva Stripe brand (photo credit: Courtesy)
The 'Old Soul' T-shirt for the Akiva Stripe brand
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Cameron Alpert is the kind of guy the Los Angeles enter tainment industry would love to get its hands on. Walking into a local Starbucks dressed casually in shorts and a T-shirt, he’s the perfect package of clean-shaven, model/actor good looks.
He’s tall, lean and confident.
With his shock of dark hair and soulful chocolate eyes, he’d be box-office gold, drawing in every teenage girl with a casually raised eyebrow or megawatt smile.
However, while Alpert definitely wants to be known for his artistic pursuits, they have more to do with his dual passions of movie-making (behind – not in front of – the camera) and having his followers purchase his unique, Jewish-inspired urban streetwear.
THE 26-YEAR-OLD film and marketing graduate from Georgia State University is passionate about the clothing line he has designed called Akiva Stripe. Inspired by Jewish iconography and the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Alpert named the company by combining the term Akiva, meaning “protector,” and stripe, which is the “mark” the Children of Israel placed on their doors in the Book of Exodus to remain safe during the Ten Plagues.
The hoodies, hats and T-shirts are made locally in Los Angeles with biodegradable and water-based inks. The T-shirts are made of Egyptian cotton, and the hoodies of cotton fleece.
As for the designs themselves, they are both eclectic and somewhat obscure. A T-shirt with a “deconstructed” rattlesnake (as per Akiva Stripe’s website) with the words “Am Yisrael Chai” in English, also has the number 2775 emblazoned across the bottom.
Alpert says he is “into numerology” and that 2775 adds up to 21, which he feels is a significant number.
“It’s a sign of adulthood even though in Judaism 13 is considered to be that number,” he explains.
As for the snake? “I always thought it was a powerful, misunderstood image, usually associated with evil. But it can also represent power.”
Much of the clothing also features a Star of David. Some offers up Hebrew lettering, including one tee that has an almost-Rorschach print of the hands of the kohanim (priests), with the letter shin in the center and the word “Emuna” (faith) running vertically.
Across the top is a simple statement: “Old Soul.”
Alpert freely admits that Akiva Stripe is his passion project – a way for people to connect with their Jewish heritage and wear it loudly and proudly.
“No matter what you believe or what your Jewish experience has been, you can’t deny who you are,” he says.
Growing up in the small town of Albany, Georgia, Alpert says he had no Jewish community around him, but connecting with his heritage was still extremely important. He cites his grandparents, who escaped to the United States from the Ukraine before the Holocaust but whose family, friends and home towns were wiped out by the Nazis.
Alpert says he started designing the line, which launched in May, because he couldn’t find great streetwear that reflected his identity.
“I was always looking for something that was not only fashionable, but that also represented Jewish culture well,” he explains.
A self-professed rebellious kid, Alpert says he “couldn’t find something that catered to my love of subculture and alternative music as well as my Jewish identity. When my friends took a liking to [my design style], it took off. It became an outlet to carve my own niche within the community.”
Despite its Jewish inspiration, Alpert believes the brand can become a global phenomenon because non-Jews have also expressed interest in the clothing. He believes that Jewish iconography can become a cool fashion statement in much the same way Japanese or French lettering has gained a following.
“Why not Hebrew?” he asks. “It’s an ancient, beautiful language that can be appreciated as art.”
WHILE ALPERT admits that he was “drinking the [Akiva Stripe] Kool-Aid for some time,” it was two trips to Israel – and Tel Aviv in particular – that focused his vision for the clothing line. (His first trip was in 2011 as a Birthright participant. He returned this past summer to lead a Birthright trip.) He states that Akiva Stripe is a Tel Aviv-inspired streetwear brand, and “is to Tel Aviv in a way what streetwear in Los Angeles is to the community here.”
That’s why one of his designs states simply “LAX-TLV,” with the word “SYNERGY” in both Hebrew and English.
“I believe there is a real synergy in terms of [Los Angeles’s and Tel Aviv’s] climate and community, especially the artistic community,” he explains. “That vibe is very inspirational. To that end, I think those are two of my favorite cities and that’s why I’ve made it such a theme when it comes to this brand.”
He also says he thinks Israel is “magnificent.”
“We’re really getting back to our roots, blending the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities,” he states. “The people are wonderful. Every time I set foot in Israel – it’s only been twice so far, but I feel like I’m home and I think many people feel that. No matter where you are from in the world, you will find a great sense of community in Israel.”
Not to be overshadowed by Tel Aviv, Jerusalem was also very inspirational, both for Alpert personally and his clothing line.
“How can it not be?” he says. “You’re standing in places your ancestors walked thousands of years ago.”
That’s why, he says, one of his shirts has a picture of the Western Wall.
“That was very important to me.”
WHILE SALES to date have been modest (“We’ve sold hundreds, but nothing significant”) and mostly through word of mouth or targeted advertising on Facebook, Alpert says he was never in this for the money.
The brand is currently online only, and its three major markets are New York, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. Yet he says he’s currently talking with stores about selling to them wholesale and setting up an online funding campaign. (To date, he’s invested only his own money.) “Of course, I’d love to be able to sustain myself doing what I love,” he says. “But I was never doing this for the money. I love contributing to the community.”
Alpert is fully aware that his line was launched during a time of great turbulence for Israel and Jews throughout the world.
Asked if he’s making a statement about literally wearing your identity on your sleeve, especially among his target demographic – many of whom are facing anti-Israel and BDS sentiment on college campuses – he says that “there should never be a time that people shouldn’t stand up” for their beliefs.
“Never be afraid to be yourself, especially when we have so much positive history behind us,” he exclaims. “But [Akiva Stripe] is not meant to be divisive. All cultures have art, and it’s what unites us.
Through my art, that’s how I hope to leave a lasting contribution in my lifetime. But I admit, while everything is turbulent, I was especially proud to create [Akiva Stripe] now. There’s no better time.”
Alpert goes on to quote Rabbi Hillel, who said: “If not now, when?” “Time is not a given,” he intones. “It’s a gift. And at the end of the day, [Akiva Stripe] is art, and it’s fashion, and I’m a Jew, so what are you going to do?”