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David Roytman, Luxury Judaica brand owner, “I understand that I create history…”
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Friday, 19 May 2017 13:41

The David Roytman brand is one of the most recognizable brands in modern Judaica. Arguably, he was the first to bring the elements of high fashion and luxury into a traditional world of Jewish attributes, making it much more lucrative and diverse. Today we are talking with David Roytman, a native of Odessa (Ukraine) and founder of Luxury Judaica lifestyle brand.

Q.: Mr Roytman, can you tell us about yourself and some key facts in your life?

A.: I was born in Odessa and moved to Israel in 1990. In Odessa, I studied at synagogue and lived in the house of Isaiah Giser who was rabbi of the city. At the end of 1990, I went to Israel to study at yeshiva. At that time, Rabbi Yitzchak Kogan (currently, chief rabbi at Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue in Moscow) organized the Children of Chernobyl project focused on sending Jewish children from the Chernobyl Exclusion zone to Israel. KGB denied me the opportunity to leave the country as I did not match the criteria being an Odessa citizen. Rabbi Kogan convinced them that at the time of the Chernobyl disaster I stayed with my relatives not far off Chernobyl, and perhaps the authorities did not verify details (by the way, I heard that story from Yitzchak Kogan himself at a Moscow event that I visited). I joined the group to leave for Israel alone, without my parents, and continue my studies at yeshiva, which I did for the next 8 years.

Studying at yeshiva, I dreamt of serving in the Israeli special forces, which was actually my long-nurtured dream. To make the dream come true, I had to go to a regular school and receive a general education certificate (studying at a religious institution does not provide that kind of certificate). I managed to catch up with the 12-year school curriculum in a little more than a year and then pass state examinations. As a student in the final year, I used to take numerous tests for admission to an anti-terrorism squad and succeeded. I even had to wait for some time to qualify since an eligible conscript who wants to serve in special forces must live in Israel at least 8 years. While in the military, I got the KGB agent nickname as nobody believed that a man from the USSR, having parents in that country, could fit the secret special services. The preparatory courses and drill were difficult and lasted for 18 months. I had to face many challenges and learnt a lot of things. Anyway, a pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood, as you know. After passing through so many hardships for one year and a half, a war turned out to be quite a tolerable and habitual phenomena. I planned to enter the university at the end of my service but it was not four months after the army discharge that I was recalled to yet another war known as the Operation “Defensive Shield”. Our special unit was sent to a refugee camp in Jenin where we stayed in March–April 2002. A year after those events, the Jenin, Jenin film was released that caused controversial feelings with Israelis, to put it mildly.

Coming home from the war, there was no opportunity to continue the pre-study courses at the university as I had to wait for a new school year. At that moment, I was offered to establish the Birthright program backed by the Ezra Olami youth organization, which had be aimed at Russian-speaking Jewish youth who lived in the United States. The project involved me for over 10 years. I moved to the US but used to fly to Israel several times to take part in war action and regular military exercise. I finally became founder of Esra’s North American branch. Thanks to the program, we relocated dozens of thousands of young people to Israel, organized trips to Poland, South Africa, Italy, Great Britain, France, to name but a few. Ezra became subsequently an international organization with numerous offices across the world. I began doing business over two years ago. My first area was security for obvious reasons, and the first commercial projects were related to that field. By that time, I had built a reputation of the man of my word and the one who delivered on his promises. So I was not just looking for money; instead, I had a wide selection of investors who could readily inject money into my projects. As a result, we consolidated a group of 12 companies.

 

Q.: How and when was your brand created? How long did you cherish the idea of producing your own Judaica brand and what triggered its creation?

A.: The date of foundation is autumn 2014. I set a key objective to change people’s attitudes towards Jewish attributes. I also sought to change the way a non-Jewish world takes Jewish attributes. I understand that I create history, so I spend all my time efforts on this project. At first, many people considered the idea to be unreasonable and stupid, saying “nobody would want to pay $100 for a kippah”; however, we were undaunted in our purpose. Today, our products are sold in many boutiques in Moscow, for example, Vremena Goda store that markets the products from Montblanc, Cartier and other designer brands.

I am absolutely sure in saying that the brand is successful, and this is an accomplished fact. For me, the development of my brand is comparable to reaching a milestone like conscription to the Israeli special forces. I have fun when some people who used to criticize me ask my friends to urge me sell them a kippah at a lower price. Along with producing Jewish attributes, I own a few companies in various sectors, including high-tech, security, etc. As a military man, I tend to differentiate risks by instinct.

Q.: Are you a self-made man who established the Judaica business from scratch or did you have backers who gave you a start in life?

A.: There is a partner, a large businessman, who believed in my idea. At the time we combined our efforts, he was already a long-standing businessman while I just tried to break the ground in business. I remember that upon signing a cooperation contract between us, he leaned back in his chair and said, “It’s been the best deal in my life.” Then I took his words as a compliment but today I see what he really meant. Possessing great experience and undersense, he understood perfectly the prospects of our business.

Q.: You produce beautiful and expensive kippahs, mezuzahs and other luxury-style Judaica items. What’s your brand philosophy?

A.: The brand’s philosophy, to put it short, is the following: for many thousands of years, Jews have been hiding their nationality. The things we wear and display to people had to be very simple, inconspicuous and unsightly. Times have changed, especially in Russia. The Jews of today can wear attributes and exhibit their religious feelings fearlessly. I am a natural born esthete. Perhaps, that is why I was often annoyed to see men who looked as if just coming out of a bandbox but wearing a kind of rag on the head, and this was typical for New York, the fashion capital. That approach had to be changed. It was necessary to literally change the Jewish world to the better. I wend my way through life with my head held high and fall under the third category, according to a well-known definition by Viktor Pelevin. He breaks people down into three categories: those that go down the wind; those who adjust themselves to the wind and; those who go to the right place and make wind blow in their direction.

Q.: How do religious communities in Israel, Russia and other countries feel about your collections? Do you remember any unusual feedbacks?

A.: At first, virtually all people, with rare exceptions, treated my collections arrogantly, warily and skeptically. But as long as you achieve success, many want to be associated with your success.

Here is a short story. I had a meeting at a boutique, and unexpectedly a VIP customer who buys their products at large amounts of cash entered the shop. The director at the boutique asked me to show the python skin kippahs produced by my company and they appealed to that VIP customer who suddenly bought the entire collection. While he was picking among the items, I told him we were the only company in the world to produce the kippahs like that. Then he frowned and said, “never say it again. Even dollars are minted there. I replied that “currency is minted everywhere, even in China and Odessa in Ukraine, while the kippahs like that are produced only by our company.” People at the shop burst into ovation on hearing my words, and he shook hands with me and wished me good luck.

Q.: What is the color palette of your products?

A.: A diverse one, featuring almost all colors of the rainbow.

Q.: Please tell us about your new spring collection 2017. Are there any specialties for the enthusiasts of your brand and new customers?

A.: This is the first time that our spring collection uses the skin of exotic animals for tallit bags that cost up to $10,000. A bag is made of crocodile leather with hand-cast silver trim elements. Lobster clasps, eyelets, buttons and other accessories are made manually from luxurious materials. The most important factor is that the collection is part of the designer line that is comprised of Jewish-related attributes, including mezuzahs, kippahs, challah covers, and more. We formed a dedicated design team that is focused on the development of new items. I would like to reveal a small secret for your readers: today we are working over a mezuzah with the letter Shin glowing in darkness like a gun sight. We use python and crocodile leather, precious metals and gems.

Q.: Are you going to launch your brand in Europe? Are there any target regions for you products in 2017?

A.: We are going to start from Great Britain, France, Switzerland, Austria and Belgium. On analyzing our market expansion, we will make a decision on further penetration in Europe.

Q.: Where one can buy your products in Great Britain?

A.: In near future (in summer, I hope), our branded products will be available at London shops. Everything we have in store at present can be ordered on our site right now. Sure, production of tailor-made things takes some time. Besides, we are going to sell our products on Amazon and eBay.

Q.: Thank you for the interview.

A.: You are welcome.

 

 

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