LCHS Grads Believe Clothing Firm Is Tailored to Succeed

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
La Cañada High School alumni Jonathan Sotoodeh, Chris Sotoodeh and Bennet Cowdin have co-founded New Manhattan, which uses robotic machines to make tailored clothing and sells it online.

Not so many years ago, Jonathan Sotoodeh would go to an area tailor’s shop to get outfitted for La Cañada High School homecoming events, and he encountered an old-fashioned way of doing things — one that didn’t fit his style.
“You would go in there and they would measure for 45 minutes and it was very cumbersome,” said the 2015 LCHS graduate, noting that it would take a week to get an item of clothing tailored and returned by the shop, which eventually went out of business.
“It was time consuming, it was expensive, [and he remembered thinking] ‘I’m not surprised they were going out of business.’ I thought, ‘I’m surprised tailoring is even a thing.’ It’s an antiquated system, it’s an antiquated technology and I thought there has to be a better way to do this that allows normal people access to custom-fitted clothes. So it started from there.”
The experience led Sotoodeh and his brother Chris to found a company, New Manhattan, with the idea of creating a new type of tailoring. Now they are fashioning men’s and women’s apparel through the use of robotic machines, and selling it through the firm’s website.
The business is new, and the owners are open to investors to help them grow it, but they believe they have latched onto a billion dollar idea.
Jonathan, the 22-year-old CEO, said everything began to come together when he went to Chris, 25, a 2013 LCHS grad who became the company’s chief operating officer, and told him about his issues with tailoring. They started brainstorming, which led to some sketching on a napkin.
“It was the original blueprint for what ended up becoming an automated tailoring machine,” Jonathan said.
The brothers, with the company’s chief technology officer, Bennet Cowdin, 22 — a friend who is also a 2015 LCHS alumnus — recently created two machines to tailor the fashionable clothes, and the firm began a website to sell the brands — Le Lac for men, Pose for women.
The Sotoodehs’ mother, Delaina, said she was extremely proud.
“They basically created something that doesn’t currently exist — a fully robotic tailor machine that cuts and fits to each individual body type,” she said in a recent interview. “They wanted to create a way for people to express their individuality without having to be by what their size and body shape is. It gives people the opportunity to pick what they like and fit perfectly.”
The firm doesn’t have a patent on the tailoring robots, Chris Sotoodeh said, but they are protected under a trade secret, he said.
“It was something that I think really made sense for an unfilled need in the industry that we could really kind of leverage,” said Cowdin, who in May graduated from USC with a degree in electrical engineering and is working on a master’s degree in computer engineering. Jonathan Sotoodeh graduated magna cum laude from USC in December with a degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance. His brother became a mechanic after high school at La Cañada Auto — now Flintridge Automotive — and earned a degree from Universal Technical Institute in Rancho Cucamonga. Chris Sotoodeh also completed a six-month program for Mercedes-Benz in Long Beach that led to a yearlong stint at Mercedes-Benz of Houston Greenway.
Cowdin said the business venture “really made sense” with his knowledge of electrical and computer engineering, Jonathan’s business mind and Chris’ mechanical experience.
The trio, who officially joined forces in July 2017 and began the actual work on the machine the next month, successfully tailored their first T-shirt in December 2018 and has posted it on their company’s website.
“It was a little rugged,” Jonathan said of the prototype shirt, a not-for-sale item meant to show the machine’s abilities, which took about 30 or 40 minutes to create. “We had a lot of iterations on this, but it was tailored. We tailored it to Bennet. The smile on his face,” as seen on the website, “it says it all.”
The T-shirt design used an NHL San Jose Sharks logo because of its significance to the Sotoodehs.
“That’s my dad’s old shirt,” Chris said. “We used to wear it to hockey games when we’d go together. Those were some of the best memories of my life going to the hockey game with my parents and my brother. It was a good sacrifice to put that shirt to the test because it meant so much to myself personally and our family.”
It takes the machines approximately 10 to 15 minutes to create a shirt or dress, so two machines would pump out roughly eight per hour and at least 52,000 in a single year, Jonathan said.
“I think this company will be a billion dollar business,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to sell it for less than that. I think it could be bigger than that, but that’s the goal I have.”
Fashions are broken down in the categories of feminine and masculine. Prices range from $110 to $140 for the T-shirts in the masculine category. To purchase the apparel, a customer must create an account and give measurements for chest, midsection, seat and torso length.
“No one wants to wear a car cover,” said Jonathan. “Every single human being has features that they want to bring out — that they want to highlight regardless of your shape and size. And when you get something tailored, our algorithm is able to highlight the features you want and also fits perfectly and makes you feel your best.”
When Jonathan graduated from USC last December, he said he faced a choice of getting a job and working on the idea in his free time or single-mindedly trying to make it work.
“I figured, ‘Well, we’ve come this far, we have a billion dollar idea, at least what I think is a billion dollar idea, so why would we pass up the opportunity to try to make something of it?’ At that time my thinking was ‘Let’s just say if it doesn’t work out, we can always go back to a 9 to 5.’ But if you don’t follow your passion in your life you won’t be happy.”
Family friend Lisa Goldstein described the group as “go-getters” who will be successful.
“Each one of them has known what they want and go after it,” Goldstein said. “They’re good people, good, honest young men. I have seen their website; I have seen their workshop, the first one. I follow their social media. And they’ve got great designs. We are always happy to watch young kids find their little niche. We’re not surprised at all by how well they’re doing.”
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