It started with bar mitzvah logos. It’s turned into high-price designs for major professional athletes. And it all comes from the desk – and mind – of a Yeshiva University student.
In high school, Ari Solomon was a multi-sport standout at Torah Academy in Bergen County (in New Jersey) and was looking for a way to stay involved in sports in college and beyond. He taught himself how to use design software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, extending a passion that started with childhood-age comic drawing.
“I love art and I love creating. I created my own graphic design business and was working locally, doing ads, flyers and bar mitzvah logos. I used those early days to build on my talents and skills, with the ultimate goal of getting into the sports industry,” said Solomon, the owner of Ari Solomon Design.
In order to start making a name for himself, Solomon started reaching out to social-media-minded professional athletes with an offer. “I’ll make you a free piece of custom art work. You post it and tag me. That’s it. It’s a win-win. Before I knew it, sports agents started reaching out, wanted me to create artwork for their clients,” he said.
That led to the creation of the “5 Minute Drop,” a live Instagram series Solomon created to unveil his designs to athletes while the pros are on the other end of the video call.
One of his 5 Minute Drop guests was Alex Katz, a professional baseball player who pitched for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic and now has his sights set on competing for Israel in the Olympics.
Katz just so happens to have a side business: a custom athletic footwear company, Stadium Custom Kicks. Impressed with Solomon’s designs, Katz presented Solomon with his next challenge – designing sneakers and cleats for pro athletes.
His first task was a tall one. He was asked to create a custom set of cleats for Mets star Jacob deGrom, who wanted this past September to pay tribute to the recently-departed Mets legend Tom Seaver.
“The rumor was deGrom was going to wear them just in the bullpen to warm up. The game was on Shabbat, so I couldn’t watch it. I turned on my phone that night and found out he not only wore them in the game, but he struck out 10 batters. The broadcasters were raving about the cleats on the air. That was the start. I have 45 pro athletes now that I’ve designed for over the last few months from Major League Baseball and the NFL,” said Solomon.
Those deGrom cleats sold for over $8000 at auction, with the money benefiting former low-salaried minor league players who never made it to the major leagues and may be struggling financially. Solomon has also been active in collaborating with athletes and artists to raise money for mental health initiatives in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
It would seem a lot for a 21-year-old college junior (and a double major, at that) to take on, but Solomon – who is also recently engaged to be married – said, “I don’t waste a second of the day. I’m up at 6:15 and pray early. My whole morning is dedicated to learning Torah and I’m unreachable until noon off at the earliest. I work out every day, too, and try to use any breaks I have to be productive.
“I won’t go to sleep until everything is done. But, I’m very blessed that I love what I do, so when it’s time to wind down at the end of the day, I do it by designing a shoe.”
A native of Teaneck and congregant of Young Israel, Solomon makes sure that Judaism leaves its mark on his designs. The Hebrew letters bet, samech, and dalet – an Aramaic acronym meaning “with the help of heaven” – are stamped on his business logo and design drafts.
And through it all, Solomon is still designing those bar mitzvah logos.