How Hila Klein Went From YouTube Star to Fashion Designer and CEO of Teddy Fresh

In our long-running series “How I’m Making It,” we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.

Walking into the Teddy Fresh studio in Los Angeles feels like stepping into a vibrant alternate universe, with its whimsically painted and art-filled walls, bustling team of designers and rows and rows of clothes. At the center is Hila Klein, her strikingly blue eyes and platinum hair impossible to miss.

Full disclosure: As a big fan of Teddy Fresh and Klein, I was naturally a little (okay, a lot) nervous to meet her, but her warm presence and gratitude instantly alleviated that. Wearing a vintage reconstructed Ralph Lauren dress paired with white tights from Calzedonia and vintage Louis Vuitton kitten heels, she was every bit the fashionable CEO. But she actually got her start on YouTube, posting comedy skits with husband Ethan Klein while living in Tel Aviv, her birthplace — and that experience played a pivotal role in establishing her fashion brand.

“It took us a long time, but we were so happy and thankful for 10 new subscribers a week, then 100. When we reached 1,000, I was like, ‘Oh, my God,'” she says. As the Klein’s channel grew, “people got to know me more, and they wanted to see more.”

<p>Photo: Taylour Chanel/Courtesy of Hila Klein</p>

Photo: Taylour Chanel/Courtesy of Hila Klein

Klein gained her own fan base within the universe of H3H3 (the original name of their channel), who affectionately referred to themselves as “Hila Kleiners” and encouraged her to share her love of fashion and art.

“I have always been passionate about creativity, whether it’s through art or clothing,” she says. “Everything is art for me.”

Long before YouTube, Klein actually applied to fashion school, and didn’t get in on the first try. That didn’t stop her yearning for the artistic world: She reapplied and ended up enrolling, but studied art direction instead of design. Then came YouTube, and as that channel continued to grow, she and Ethan decided to move to Los Angeles. But in 2017, a phenomenon known as the “Adpocalyse” resulted in an 80% reduction in their channel revenue: “That was a little bit of a wake-up call for us, like, ‘Well, people always say you don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket.’ You need to diversify.”

The Kleins started the H3 Podcast, and Hila founded Teddy Fresh.

When she started the streetwear brand, Klein was having a difficult time finding clothing that she liked, that was colorful and playful but within her price range.

“If I went to the mall, I wouldn’t know where to shop,” she says. “I loved the really expensive stuff, but it was way too expensive. And then there’s the cheaper fast fashion — yea, they do the trendy things, but there’s no quality, and if there’s no longevity, it’s not something that you can keep for years. It felt like there was a need that I wasn’t finding answered.”

Ahead, Klein talks about launching her own brand (and growing it from a small capsule into a full collection), capitalizing on her YouTube popularity to scale and more.

<p>Photo: Cindy Gromera/Courtesy of Hila Klein</p>

Photo: Cindy Gromera/Courtesy of Hila Klein

Tell us about a challenging moment you faced while building Teddy Fresh, and how you overcame it. 

When you build a company, there’s so much that you need to figure out. 2021 was a really big year for us — we hired 15 or 20 people in one year. Once you have all these people, there need to be processes to make everybody work seamlessly together. I’ve seen other brands growing too fast, too quick. We almost had that moment, but we kind of paused and were like, ‘We need to slow down.’

One example of that: We lowered our revenue goals in order to create less workload, so that we could focus on the processes, the people, the foundation, and make sure that everything was going to work. Now we’re past that, we feel like we have a good, solid foundation.

What role does your YouTube channel play in your career now?

It’s our marketing. It’s just so organic. I don’t need to force something that’s not truly there. We cultivated a real connection where the fans really loved it from the beginning, and when I am excited about it, they see it’s genuine. I’m really thankful for our career on YouTube, because I don’t know if I could have done it otherwise.

What’s your approach to social media more broadly? 

I wanted to start establishing myself more as a person in the fashion world. I’d love to start getting invited to fashion shows and get to know and work with other brands, because we’ve just been in our own bubble.

In the beginning, I was just taking selfies  for our Friday podcast, which was my moment to dress up and do something more elevated for my Instagram. Then I started to bring a photographer to take the pictures. Then I was like, ‘I want to do another photoshoot.’ Now, I’m having so much fun. I’m basically taking the approach of creating what I want to see happen for myself and seeing where it goes.

One of my big goals is that ultimately it will trickle down to Teddy Fresh — if I’m more a part of the fashion conversation, Teddy Fresh will be as well.

A range of celebrities, from Heidi Klum to Sofia Vergara to Howie Mandel, have all worn Teddy Fresh recently. How did those moments came about?

Howie Mandel has been amazing. He had a viral moment on TikTok, and we were talking about it a lot on the podcast, to the point where he noticed. We became friendly because of that, and we built a relationship. He’s just the sweetest, coolest person. We sent him a Teddy Fresh shirt that said, ‘Send Help’ — a few days later, he was photographed wearing the shirt to ‘America’s Got Talent.’

Then, Heidi Klum was asking him questions about Teddy Fresh. He showed her the line, and she loved the sweater that said ‘I Will Accomplish Nothing Today.’ Howie’s stylist texted me to bring the sweater to Heidi at ‘America’s Got Talent,’ and I was thinking, ‘I’ve watched ‘Project Runway’ my whole life, this is crazy!’ The stylist told me I could hand-deliver it to her that day, and we made it work. I wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity. That’s an important lesson: When you get an opportunity like that, you just have to go for it. You can’t be shy about it.

Heidi mentioned she would like to wear it oversized, so I brought two sizes with me. It was a good thing that I brought two, because when Howie saw it, he was like, ‘Sofia, do you want to wear one?’ The next day, the photos of them wearing the Teddy Fresh were already posted. I was like, ‘This is the greatest 24 hours.’

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Walk us through a typical day in the life of a CEO and designer at Teddy Fresh. 

I’m very heavily involved in the design process. I work with the design department from the beginning of every collection: the inspiration, the research, then through the sketching, finalizing the designs, handing it off to development and production. Other meetings I go to are on cost, production and marketing — I have all kinds of meetings, basically. I’m involved in the review of the samples we get back from our factory, making sure that each piece is exactly how we want it. We have fittings twice a week that I will sometimes join in on. I recently started modeling to promote our collections as well.

How do you balance the creative side with the business side of your work?

Working with the design team at Teddy Fresh is my creative outlet. Sometimes, I’ll do my own sketches and include those together with the designers, and we all work together. One day, I would love to paint.

<p>Photo: Taylour Chanel/Courtesy of Hila Klein</p>

Photo: Taylour Chanel/Courtesy of Hila Klein

What are some of the key elements that you incorporate into your designs?

It’s always about how I can make it look Teddy Fresh. Sometimes, it’s just a touch — a cool trim, a custom button, something that looks vintage. I draw a lot of inspiration from vintage kids and adult clothing. There used to be so much detail, playfulness and naiveté. We just do what feels intuitive to us.

We were seeing so many comments on our YouTube channel of people really wanting to buy Teddy Fresh, but they couldn’t afford it. So, we wanted to try to do a true Classics Collection that’s really toned-down, that anybody can wear every day, and make it cheaper. We all racked our brains on how to do it, and we were able to get to the price point that we wanted. A beautiful thing about the classics is that they’re something we can always keep in stock, and add new colors or silhouettes if we feel like it. But it will always be there.

What do you think sets Teddy Fresh apart from other brands?

It’s what you get for the price, for really good quality and for original designs. What’s also unique about us is that I keep the brand open-minded, in a way where, if we feel like making a punk collection, we’re going to do it, or if we want to do a schoolgirl vibe, we can. Anything can go.

I like to be able to change and evolve and wear whatever I want. One day, I’ll wear all black, and others I’m super girly — I think that helps me with self-confidence, to be able to wear different skins, like in a video game.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in the fashion industry?

First of all, always listen to your own intuition, no matter who you’re working with and how many years of experience they have behind them compared to you.

Also, I very much believe in a no-ego policy. I think egos should be left at the door. Respect the people you work with, allow for the best idea to win and be really collaborative.

I also think you have to be really unique and think about what sets you apart from everybody else.

What’s next for Teddy Fresh?

[We just did a] big collaboration with Marvel — I’m really, really excited about that one. To give you a hint for a collaboration in a few months, we’re working with an icon that has a motel in Palm Springs.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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