One to Watch: Kumar Arora (Inside Business Magazine)

HIP POINTER: Kumar Arora is cool. He hosts parties at hip downtown Cleveland clubs through his Black Rose Entertainment. He is a co-owner of the popular streetwear brand Ilthy, which sells shirts, hats and jackets designed in-house. So when it came time to market Rogue Eyewear, his new, affordable brand of designer sunglasses, he created a slick campaign featuring 19 Action News entertainment reporter Chris Van Vliet and others that would fit in high-end fashion magazines. But Arora didn’t want the brand to stray far from his Cleveland sensibilities. “Rogue’s blood comes from Cleveland,” he says. “I felt that achieving a price point is probably the No. 1 thing. It might even go higher than design.” So all the shades are priced at about half of what luxury frames might cost. 

FAMILY TIES: Rogue is rooted in the skills, lessons and ideals that his parents, natives of Delhi, India, instilled in him from an early age. His mother, Anu, an artist, would spend days with him drawing or painting, while his father, Pramod, a chemist who worked with lens coatings, would come home from work with examples of different lenses. “Growing up, my parents always pushed me to learn as much as I can, do as much as I can,” Arora says.

REFLECTING LENS: Arora is also fueled by his parents’ immigrant story. The couple came to the United States with very little, eventually securing jobs at Case Western Reserve University and settling in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood. “I feel like it’s something I have to prove to the world,” he says. “I can continue my parents’ story.” 

We talked to Arora about balance, style and striking out on his own. 

IB: How have your parents’ experiences affected you?
 My dad leaving his job opened my eyes. I was in ninth grade when it happened. He was head of R&D at a company. He left his job to start his own thing. He worked so hard for another company and never got credit and realized that he had to do it on his own. So he went from being a scientist to being a businessman. It’s similar on my end where I was studying premed [at the Ohio State University], and I thought, Business is the answer here. I can do more.

IB: What have you learned about being an entrepreneur in Cleveland?
 It’s hard. It’s best to never give up. Any entrepreneur in any city is going to struggle. Bootstrapping is something any entrepreneur has to do, but it comes down to how hard you are willing to work and how far you are willing to go.

IB: How do you manage your time and energy with several different ventures?
 It’s almost like playing chess. But you can’t do it alone. You have to have a strong team in order to be able to jump in and jump out.

IB: What new trends are you seeing in Cleveland?
 People are wanting to experiment and experience new things. With the accessibility of Instagram and different social media platforms, people are paying attention to style — maybe not necessarily fashion. But they are developing their own style. It’s all about having the experience. Food or fashion or entertainment, Cleveland is more open to things now than they were five years ago.

IB: Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?
 It’s from Simon Sinek’s TED talk: “People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.” That line has always stuck with me. There is always a story behind everything. You can’t just open up a business and expect to tell them what you do. Tell them why you do it. That’s the foundation of everything I do.

Kumar Arorainterview