At the intersection of fashion and sports you’ll find Jhoanna Alba, owner of “ALBA," providing bespoke clothing and defining athletes' legacies one suit at a time. In fact, her hashtag is #LookofyourLegacy.
“Magic Johnson has been my mentor for over 20 years,” said Alba. "If you see him, he’s always in a suit. That’s his uniform. So, when I was thinking of a slogan or something for the company, it was, 'what does the company represent?’ And, I’ve worked with rookies from college, moving on to the pros, throughout their career, and even after their career. So, we’ve created that look - the look of their legacy.”
Alba sat down with Wendy Rosenthal and Eira Schwyzer on UBN’s “Distill It!: a 360 degree view of life in sports" radio program. She’s worked with athletes like Russell Westbrook, Marcus Mart, William Hayes, Orlando Skandrick and many others. Alba tells Rosenthal and Schwyzer that the joy comes from the collaboration, but also from knowing that her clients trust her. While she prefers to live somewhere between the high couture of Alexander McQueen and the conservatism of Tom Ford, she’s not afraid to make bold moves - or emotional ones.
Rosenthal recalled Alba’s specialized suit linings. Alba had wanted to do something special for Marcus Mart when he was drafted for the Celtics and did some research. After finding out his brother had passed away, Alba hired an artist to hand paint his life story inside his suit. “His mother’s name is in there, where he grew up, where he went to school; his brother was #3; it had a basketball and said, 'Rest in Peace.' It was a surprise. He didn’t know I was doing it. When I unveiled it in front of GQ, we had a moment. I was trying not to cry.” Alba says she wanted to incorporate the idea of never forgetting where you come from, mentioning that she’s from the Philippines.
Fashion in sports is nothing new. But, in assessing its history, Rosenthal was surprised to learn just how far back fashion and sports have intertwined.
Rosenthal: “I thought sports and fashion was not such an old thing. Like I think of Joe Namath wearing his fur coat on the sideline.. he owned it…But, it really started in the 1920’s with Renee Lacoste, the tennis player who wanted comfort on the court back in the day when they wore ties on the court. Even in a tennis setting, which seems the most buttoned up and the least open to interpretation, it’s almost like it had its genesis there. And then you come up to someone like a Joe Namath. And, you mentioned Allen Iverson. Iverson was very controversial."
Alba: “Oh, I was there.”
Rosenthal: “His street look caused quite a stir.”
Alba: “That’s the reason (the NBA) implemented a dress code, which did wonders for my company,” she laughed.
Rosenthal: "If it weren’t for Allen Iverson, athletes wouldn’t have stepped up and started wearing really nice suits and trying to outdo each other."
Iverson for his part is still smarting over the NBA’s 2005 dress code. A response to the hip-hop elements he incorporated into his off-the -court look, he told Fox sports last year, “If they had a problem with what I was wearing, I don’t know how they don’t have a problem with what these guys are wearing. Good gracious. I ain’t ever seen nothing like it. I just felt the NBA was just picking on me.” Schwyzer recalled Iverson has said, “Dress like a superhero, play like one.” And, while she respected his presentation, she recalls her mother, who was a seamstress, saying that people will treat you based on how you look. "I respect how Alan Iverson dressed and where he came from. You know, ‘this is who I am; this is how we grew up looking and dressing,’ I respect that position. But, putting on a suit says, I’m going to work."
Alba, who has worked with the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, concedes it’s a bit of a dance. Westbrook recently asked her for a polka dot suit. "I found the smallest polka dots I could find, and he loved it. So, there’s a compromise.” A compromise she demands to meet without compromising the athletes' personalities.
For her part, Alba says she’s turned her last name into an acronym: "A Light Beyond Appearance." She's trying to walk the walk, and help her clients at the same time.
She’s now partnering with a family in Colombia who asked her what her company needs. Her response? Shoes above sizes 13 and 14. The family moved to Milan, Italy for six months to learn the shoe-making industry. While there, they recruited a shoe maker who agreed to move to Colombia for a year. They are teaching single mothers how to make the high-end, large size shoes for her clients. “The ultimate goal is to build a school across the street. The kids get an education while parents are working. I get emotional. I am a single mom,” Alba said.
The name of the collection is Donam, which Alba says means “blessed.” Whether it’s fielding calls from clients ahead of the ESPY’s, finding out her client Westbrook won the NBA style award, dressing stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for HBO’s “Ballers,” or keeping a client within a budget while personal shopping, that’s what Alba says she is: blessed.
For more “outside the stats” sports coverage, tune in to Wendy Rosenthal and Eira Schwyzer every other Tuesday at 3pm PT on UBN's "Distill It!: a 360 degree view of life in sports."