Few people in the world are fortunate enough to find a passion for their work that is so intense, it keeps them up at night in elated anticipation for the new day. I started my business, Romi Basha, when I was 15 years old, hand painting vintage army jackets in my garage.
My story begins in the city of Madrid, where I went with my mother to visit my brother studying in Spain. The weather was cold, and we enjoyed café con leche while walking aimlessly down the enchanting streets of Madrid. We found our way into the famous El Rastro flea market, where I was immediately attracted to the eclectic assortment of merchandise because of my inherent proclivity towards things with history. The booth that caught my attention sold old army gear from different countries, and I liked the design of the French army jacket with its appealing classic aesthetic. With the French army stamp “Armee Francaise” on the sleeve and the year of issue inside the pocket, I could wrap a piece of history around me.
While I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the jacket, inspiration hit two weeks later, and I decide to try painting it. My first design was an unexpected disaster - the paint cracked, and the embellishments I attempted to glue on fell off; I soon realized it would be harder than I anticipated. By the second jacket, I was better equipped with flexible paint and Gorilla Glue. I was inspired by my grandfather Saba’s jewelry designs, which represent good luck and happiness.
As an artist, my Saba has embraced a joyful attitude, despite the difficult life he led. As a teen, anti-Semitic violence forced him to flee his home in Baghdad. Iraqi authorities were hanging Jews in the public squares of their neighborhoods. Fearing for his life, my Saba escaped in the dark of the night, taking with him only what he could carry. On foot, he walked through Syria to a refugee camp in Israel. Despite such hardships, he carries no bitterness, and the colors and designs of jewelry manage to embody the sentiments of happiness and good fortune. In the spirit of my grandfather and my history, I sought a design that radiated positive energy. I arrived at a circle of colorful rays encircling the evil eye that wards off bad spirits. I named the image “GOOD VIBES.”
I opened my shop on Etsy, and luck shined on me when a buyer from California noticed my designs and purchased some for her boutique. One shop led to another, and soon I was busy building my own website and customizing jackets for celebrities, such as Oprah and Gigi Hadid. Bloomingdales invited me to showcase my designs at several trunk shows, and I continue to grow my online business. Just this year, the Robin Hood Foundation reached out to me regarding a design collaboration with their logo and my “GOOD VIBES.”
As a native New Yorker, their mission to alleviate poverty in the city resonated with me, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to give back while doing what I love.
Developing my artistry and maintaining my business, while embracing a rigorous college curriculum hasn’t been easy. I admit having had to purchase fabric from my phone or direct deliveries as I rush to class. Conversely, my studies share space with my business. For example, in preparation for an exam, lectures have been my background listening while I worked on my website, social media, etc. I have found harmony in learning how to maintain both sides of my life.