Behind the styles of some of the greatest athletes including NFL hotshots and NBA rockstars, stands Jhoanna Alba, the founder and principal designer of ALBA: Bespoke Clothing. She has created hundreds of styles for her famous clientele and has dressed sports heroes like Magic Johnson and Russell Westbrooke.
Having such a niche of unique customers, Alba has had quite the ride during her career. Her success lies in her ability to create what her clients want in a short time span.
We sat down with the athletic style guru to ask about her success in fashion and find out what it is like to dress superstars like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Andre Drummond.
How did you end up in fashion?
My mother taught me how to sew by hand when I was six years old. I started sketching designs when I was 10 and making my own clothes. I always knew I wanted to be in the fashion industry.
One of my first jobs was working at a tuxedo shop in Beverly Hills. At 16, I was managing the highest volume tuxedo shop in the country. I loved working and styling Grooms for their wedding. I was styling major events and fell in love with menswear.
Tell us a little about your experience coming up in the fashion world - how competitive is it?
When I started my first company at the age of 21, I asked a lot of questions to potential clients. What would separate me from other companies? I took a lot of notes and executed a game plan. Feedback is important for the growth of any company. As far as competition, I do not believe there is competition in the fashion industry. Everyone has their own vision and purpose.
What's the craziest request you've ever had whilst making clothes?
I recently made this for Andre Drummond for The Espy's. Being 6'11, 280lbs, this was a unique design we created. We hand painted the jacket to give it a splash of color and completed the look we were going for. Red is Andre's favorite color so it was important to incorporate it on his suit.
How would you define your style?
Classic with a modern flare.
What is it like creating outfits for athletes - is it difficult given their different body dimensions?
Every client has their own input. It's a collaboration and my job is to educate them. With 36 different measurements, our master tailors cut the perfect fit for each individual.
How is it competing against the big male names within the industry?
Having a production house in DTLA, we are able to produce suits within 24 hours. ALBA is a very customer service driven company with our brand being the main focus. Other designers have their own business mottos that we respect.
What's your busiest season?
We are busy year round being we service NBA, MLB, and NFL. In addition, we have partnered with Robert Mata, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, stylists in which we manufacture clothes for the HBO hit show Ballers as well as his personal wardrobe. We also service clients in the entertainment industry, so nonetheless, we are busy year round.
What's next for you this year?
We have partnered with a family from Colombia where we have hired single mothers to make hand made custom shoes ranging from size 10-19. Our ultimate goal is to build a school across the street from the factory where their children can get an education, while their mothers work. It has been an honor working with Donum, which means blessed in Latin.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.