By Matthew Portnoy and Hannah Weinberger
Walking down the historic Madrid boulevards, 16-year-old Romi Soffer, a sophomore at Ponte Vedra High School in Florida, took in all that the city had to offer. Traditional buildings, old fashioned arts, and abstract painted walls filled the city with character and beauty. As Soffer walked past all the boutiques, she was intrigued by the connection between the city and her passion for art. Entering a little corner store, she immediately came across old tattered jackets from a twentieth century European war. When Soffer picked up a jacket, she decided to bring it back to New York with her to try to recreate her own version. Little did she know that this very jacket would come to inspire a whole company of abstract jackets, fulfilling her desire to design. The stores, streets, and walls of Madrid would serve as Soffer’s vision behind her jacket line.
Going to Madrid introduced Soffer to a whole new side of art: The abstract murals beautifully painted across walls taught her that art doesn’t always have to be on a conventional canvas. Art can be impulsive, spontaneous, and, most importantly, different. Soffer was inspired by the way the murals made her think and feel, thus compelling her “to try something different,” and create “something out of the box.”
Until this school year, Soffer attended the Great Neck Public Schools. She has since moved to Plancha Vela, Florida. Because of her company’s recent dealings with Long Island shops, her name lives on in Great Neck. Soffer’s creativity is sparking new interests in her trends, making RomiBasha a widely known brand on Long Island. In high end stores such as Kyle by Alene Too, Jennifer Miller Jewelry, The Shoe Box, Maddie’s 390, and soon Bloomingdales (the locations of which ones are not known yet), Soffer’s jackets are helping her stay connected with her old home.
Before the jackets are sold in these high end stores, Soffer spends multiple hours creating intricate designs that makes each jacket stand out. The jacket-making process begins with Soffer ordering vintage jackets from Spain; she orders around 300 each time due to the high demand. The vintage jackets are one of the biggest appeals for the customers. When she receives the jackets, she starts to design immediately to fill orders from both stores and individual customers.
Before she even lays hands on a jacket, Soffer plans out what she is going to create. She often uses stencils because they allow her to reproduce her designs quickly and on a large scale: She simply has to place the stencil on a blank jacket and paint over it.
Soffer expanded her company in 2014 when she started working directly with clients to design their perfect jacket. Now, customers have an endless possibility of designs to choose from: emoji patches to fur hoods to colorful pom poms are just a few of the options. Each jacket has a starting price of $495 but the price can increase depending on what the client orders.
After she finishes sketching a custom design, she transfers that design onto a vintage jacket using fabric paints to add color to the jacket’s green base. When she is finished, Soffer then sews on her personalized RomiBasha label to complete the jacket. Depending on the design and amount of paint needed, a project could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to make.
Soffer’s $450 U Name It jackets allow clients to personalize on a template so that they don’t have to create a design from scratch. These jackets include a simple design on the back; bold lines run from the bottom of the jacket up to the neck, and a name is printed on in the midde, breaking up the lines. Although some jackets are simpler than others, Soffer considers them all works of art.
One jacket, entitled 1960, has an abstract person painted on the back with bright colors such as red and orange and a splatter-painted front. Her jacket entitled 1961 is also hand painted with an abstract figure, but this jacket is camouflaged and focuses on darker colors such as blue, brown, and purple. Soffer said that “both of these jackets were completely inspired by a wall [she] passed by in Madrid.”
Other jackets Soffer sells are minimalistic. Her jacket entitled Fringe Me Up is a tan army jacket with rainbow fringe cascading down from the two front pockets. Soffer’s jackets, hand painted with either an abstract or minimalist look, are representative of what Madrid means to her.
Although Soffer has always appreciated art because it has allowed her to express her creativity, she can’t draw outside of the lines anymore. There are no “mess-ups.” Since her work is a professional business where she is being paid to satisfy a customer’s order, she must measure twice and cut once. Although it is very stressful and takes many tedious hours, Soffer must ensure that her work is perfect before declaring a project complete.
Despite Soffer’s company being in its infancy, it is already making its way onto multiple social media platforms. The company has an Instagram, @romibasha, where customers can stay up to date with the newest looks. She also uses this account to repost pictures of celebrities wearing her jacket.
Famous social media icons such as Vine star Colby Brock and fashion blogger Lindsi Lane have already posted photos of themselves in her jackets. As a result, her Instagram page—as well as her company—is constantly becoming more popular.
This is more than just a high school hobby to put on her resume–it’s something Soffer wants to pursue in her future. She has always loved art and fashion and could not imagine doing anything else. Soffer spends countless hours working on her jackets to make sure each one is perfect before sending it to a customer or posting a picture of it online. She explains that even though at times it can be hard to “balance [her] business with school work,” she keeps working because she feels that “it is important to do things that you enjoy. That’s what keeps you happy and motivated.”