A Chief in Women’s Clothing

The Miami-bred daughter of an entrepreneurial family, Erica (Wertheim) Zohar, A.B. ’92, always planned to run her own business. A young woman in a hurry, she earned her degree in three years and promptly enrolled in the University of Miami School of Law.

“I loved the Miami lifestyle and the ’Canes,” she says. “I just couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”

But Hurricane Andrew shut down classes, and then while attending a New Year’s Eve party, she met a vacationing UCLA law student—the man she’d later marry. By May 1993 she was living in Los Angeles. There Zohar spied a business opportunity: Casual sportswear had become the fashion for women like herself, but it wasn’t very … fashionable.

“There was no luxury line,” she recalls. “I knew I could do better than that.”

In 1995 she took six samples, whipped up by her local tailor, to a New York trade show and came home with a large order from Bloomingdale’s, among others. Suddenly she and her company, American Groove, were in business.

Stores coast to coast were selling Zohar’s stylish sweats, which also had a distinctive “Made in the USA” cachet. But business, like fashion, is always changing. “Many stores began manufacturing their own lines,” says Zohar. “I also had two children [today 9 and 11] and wanted some life balance.” By 2010 American Groove was a fashion consulting company.

Zohar’s first project was a co-branding partnership between the CW network’s hit 90210 series and clothing manufacturer Bebe that cross-markets the clothes worn on the show with retail stores. The two companies split the profits.

“This deal combines fashion and entertainment in a new way,” says Zohar, who is seeking her next retail partner, this time for The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Although relationship success on those reality shows has proved less than stellar, Zohar’s own matchmaking prowess may lead to a business pairing that will make her the real star.

A case in point: Her husband, an entertainment lawyer, left his practice to join American Groove in 1996, and the two remain partners today. “I saved him from being a lawyer,” laughs Zohar, tongue firmly in cheek.

Robert S. Benchley