Alial Fital -- a special brand with a special story
If you follow the PGA Tour at all, you're familiar with Bo Van Pelt. And rightfully so as Van Pelt is almost always in contention and currently the No. 26-ranked player in the world (though he's spent many weeks inside the top 25).
When you see Van Pelt on TV -- or in person -- chances are you've also noticed his snazzy, stylish polo shirts. They're from a company called Alial Fital (Ah-lee-all Fit-ahl).
The story behind Alial Fital is probably unike any other you've heard before.
The founder/creative director is a gentleman by the name of Gibran Hamdan. Prior to entering the world of clothing design, Hamdan had a six-year career as an NFL quarterback with the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers and Amsterdam Admirals (NFL Europe). Hamdan played his college football at the University of Indiana.
Hamdan said his time spent in the NFL was as a back up, but his career in football wasn't without some highlights.
"I think highlights in my football career have to include being named Big Ten Player of the Week against Wisconsin where I led a 22-point second half comeback after being intercepted by Jim Leonhard," Hamdan said. "Jim became my good friend in the NFL and was actually the one whom, while watching the Masters in 2011, pieced together that Bo Van Pelt had become a customer of Alial Fital. Getting drafted by the Washington Redskins (2003) and being the NFL Europe MVP with the Amsterdam Admirals are up there too."
When Hamdan stepped away from football in 2010, Alial Fital was born -- interestingly -- out of curiousity.
"After I retired, I began messing around with my wife's sewing machine and checked out YouTube videos," said Hamdan, whose wife Jenny is the granddaughter of former longtime Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant. "After learning the basics, I was determined to learn how to sew a dress shirt from scratch. I read books and in fact taught myself pattern making and grading and eventually successfully sewed my first custom dress shirt from scratch.
"During the process I realized there was a product that I wanted but couldn't find -- something that combined the style of a dress shirt collar and the comfort of a polo," Hamdan added. "Essentially, a super comfortable piece that was versatile enough to stand on its own but under a blazer would give the impression I was wearing a dress shirt all the while wearing the most comfortable shirt I own."
Hamdan tells us he was always into fashion, which caused him some playful grief from teammates in NFL locker rooms.
"I had always been into fashion and art," Hamdan said. "I actually wrote a fashion blog for Brooks Brothers in my final year with the Buffalo Bills, chronicling my teammates road trip outfits. You can imagine the ribbing I got from teammates and around the locker room. The great thing about it is that football locker rooms are an interesting environment -- while my teammates gave me a hard time initially, especially when I would wear suits to regular work days, eventually they realized through the years that it was something I took seriously and was interested in. So they stopped giving me a hard time and started asking for advice."
Back to Van Pelt for a second. As Hamdan noted, Van Pelt was a fan of the company -- wearing the shirts on the PGA Tour -- before he became an official endorser.
"Bo was one of our best customers during our first year and, I didn't realize it at the time, he was a top-25 golfer in the world," Hamdan said. "At the end of the year he sent me an email and loved the product so much he asked me to sponsor him. Our golf-specific polos were then launched in 2011 and we can now proudly boast that we are the only American-made brand sponsoring a top-25 American golfer."
If you're like me, you're probably wondering where the unique name "Alial Fital," comes from. Well, there's some big-time significance to that, Hamdan explained.
"After sewing the first sample I launched AF, named after my parents Laila and Latif -- spelled backwards -- who persevered through a ton of adversity, including losing our Kuwait home in the first Gulf War while we were on vacation in San Diego (Hamdan lived in Kuwait for six years from age 3-9)," he said. "I then set about researching American-made production capabilities and building a website (www.afpolos.com) from scratch."
Currently, Alial Fital makes all of its products in Los Angeles. And if you get your hands on an Alial Fital shirt it's pretty special -- Hamdan produces only 100 of each style with no reproductions ever.
"Once our styles are gone they are gone, so a customer knows they are truly receiving a one-of-a-kind piece," Hamdan said.
Down the road, Hamdan says, there are plans to expand Alial Fital.
"Alial Fital is named after my parents so it's fair to say I have big plans to grow it into something special," he said. "However, I am very meticulous and focused on the customer experience and how we treat people that come in contact with us. I could certainly go to China and start to mass produce a bunch of styles and throw our logo on it but that's not my vision. My father always stressed patience and that is something I've tried to instill in my brand. We are going to grow organically and focus on innovation and staying ahead of the curve in regards to design and customer service -- that's really the only way we can compete."
To learn more about Alial Fital, visit www.alialfital.com.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tj_auclair.