Ehsan Rezvan: “If there’s one thing I could impart to others, it is that empowering others pays extraordinary dividends for everyone concerned”
Yitzi Weiner, Authority Magazine - In a word, empowerment. If there’s one thing I could impart to others, after living in the U.S. since 1989, is that empowering others pays extraordinary dividends for everyone concerned. I am passionate about giving back. Every company, every leader, must authentically find what moves their heart to improve a situation, circumstance, and solve a problem. Just imagine if every organization did this- we would, as a global community, become more aware, elevate those around us and better the lives of countless people, and thereby improve the planet.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ehsan Rezvan, Founder & CEO of Proud. Ehsan is on a mission to drive a global conversation about our own proudest moments. Proud makes athletic clothes as the engine for its social community and gives 10% of gross sales directly to non-profit partners. Its social media community of “rebels with a positive cause” wear Proud, tell their own stories, and empower others to do the same. Proud has a bold goal to donate $5MM in five years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Feelings of being proud to have propelled me throughout my life. As a young teenager, with my family, I emigrated from Iran to Columbus, Ohio. I quickly identified with the midwest ethos of working hard, being honest, having discipline, pursuing education and striving to be my best. I went to Ohio State University and am a die-hard Buckeye. While there, I found my first professional passion and became a periodontist. I am grateful that I have always been able to step back and assess where I am and how I came to that moment. The feeling of being proud, from childhood on, bubbles to the top. Today, I am deeply proud of what I’ve accomplished and the work we do in our office for our patients every day. At the same time, I’m especially proud of my father who overcame insurmountable obstacles in Iran to obtain his medical degree. This theme, feeling proud, is core to who I am. I want to help others harness this feeling and recognize how much power it has when we share our stories of feeling proud. This is the reason we created Proud clothing, to provide a foundation, an anchor to empower people to share their own stories and make positive connections.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It’s quite a stunning moment. I am practical, a quintessential left-brain thinker. I’m methodical, analytical. But, when we were developing our brand, we reviewed mood boards from different graphic designers. And bam! I was floored by an image that captured precisely the feeling in my heart that I was trying to communicate. It was a black and white photo of two African American children laughing, their fists up in the air, victorious, proud. That photo moved me. There was the mission of my company, in a picture. During the months of branding, messaging and visuals work, and sharing my vision with whoever would listen, my mind kept going back to that one image. So Laura Bowling, who is heading up our business, did some digging to find the photographer’s name. She called and emailed the photographer’s business manager, who is also his wife. Turns out this guy, Sandro, is quite famous! I just wanted to meet him, so I flew to Chicago to shake his hand and to ask if I could use his photo for Proud. Now Sandro is our creative director. He believes in our mission and is one of our heroes. Everything coalesced with that photo.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Listen, I’m a dentist, and am only now becoming an activist and leader of a clothing company. There have been lots of mistakes, based on naiveté, but we keep learning, moving forward, trying to not repeat them. One of our costliest mistakes, though, was picking the absolute wrong manufacturer for our first samples. We had them made in Peru and they were horrendous. We couldn’t even have anyone try them on, they were so bad. Lesson learned. Now we have an experienced production manager and we are off and running.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Proud Athletics was founded on a simple idea: to create a community where individuals can share, engage and inspire with the stories that awakened their own powerful feelings of being proud. The bold clothing line is the engine to build this community. What makes Proud so unique is not only our mission but also the creative people behind it. Launching this company has opened unexpected doors. For example, a new patient walked in who’d researched my foundation that provides college scholarships for foster kids, the Rezvan Foundation. I started it to honor my late father. It turned out that she’s a fellow Buckeye and our story compelled her to get involved. Now, she’s my right-hand person for Proud. I thought I would start the company with only the closest of friends and family but Laura changed that. It was, simply put, fate. Our story inspired a stranger to take action; the essence of Proud’s mission.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
This is the project I was meant to do, right now at this moment in time. The division in our country, the negativity we all face each and every day, does not have the power to destroy us. This is what Proud is all about, tapping into the feeling of pride we have as Americans. We can take this feeling and use it to elevate ourselves, those around us and a whole planet of people we’ve never even met. We must come together to celebrate and champion everyday people; working hard to feed their kids and pay their mortgages. They ought to feel proud of this! They, we, are the people that make this country so wonderful. We are compelled to celebrate the proud moments that everyone has. So, we are creating positive energy but we are also, with our company, raising money to give to social causes that support a better society and environment. It’s an intertwined effort to boost all of us as individuals while also financially supporting worthwhile causes.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
In a word, empowerment. If there’s one thing I could impart to others, after living in the U.S. since 1989, is that empowering others pays extraordinary dividends for everyone concerned. I am passionate about giving back. Every company, every leader, must authentically find what moves their heart to improve a situation, circumstance, and solve a problem. Just imagine if every organization did this- we would, as a global community, become more aware, elevate those around us and better the lives of countless people, and thereby improve the planet.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I love this question. It’s those who have been, and are, closest to me. I have been so fortunate. There are three people, my mother, my father, and my wife. My father was the rock, the anchor for the family. His perseverance and integrity have been a guiding light throughout my life. My mother is the soul of the family. Wherever I go, there she is, either literally in person or on the phone, or in my heart. Both my father and mother made education the number one priority in our family. They gave selflessly, always. My wife Elizabeth is my rock. She is the yin to my yang. She provides stability and calm when I get carried away. Her faith in me is unswerving, and she is the reason Proud exists at all. Elizabeth encouraged me to take the success of my foundation and to do more to improve our world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Proud is my way to bring goodness into the world! Our goal is to contribute $5 million in five years to charities that align with values we support: Education, Family, the Environment, Humanity, and Community. Through our company, we aim to create a more unified, brighter future — where individuals are empowered through true equality and mutual respect.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
This is the reason Proud exists. We are inspiring a movement right now. In today’s disjointed world, we have an almost primal longing to come together around what unites us and engage in conversations with each other about what makes us proud. Our mission is to provide an online community to share these inspiring stories. With Proud Athletics, we are encouraging people to, literally, wear those feelings of being proud on their sleeve while promoting social good with revenue from sales of the clothing earmarked for 1) Baby2Baby, which provides diapers, clothing and other necessities to children, ages 0–12, living in poverty; 2) SeaLegacy, committed to ocean conservation; and 3) The Rezvan Foundation, which supports the educational pursuits of dedicated students who persevere despite extraordinary hardships.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
The list is long but at the top of the list is LeBron James. I’d love to meet him because of his story, including the fact that he, like me, is a die-hard Ohio State fan. He is an icon on so many levels but as a philanthropist, what he’s doing for his community, with the I Promise Schools and everything else he does, he is a role model for all athletes. And really, for any celebrity who desires to use their fame, good fortune, and energy for the greater good. I have a deep respect for him.