Catholic Reality Television Star Seeks to Help Men Build a Strong Identity through New Apparel Line
Spotlight Interview with Tarek Saab, Lionheart Apparel
By Lisa M. Hendey
If you watch television, and particularly reality television, you may remember Tarek Saab as the sometimes-maligned “MENSA” member on Donald Trump’s show, The Apprentice 5. Although he didn’t win the big job, Tarek appears to have gone on to bigger and better things with his new enterprise Lionheart Apparel. Along with business partner David Colletti, this Maronite Catholic has created an exciting new line of apparel designed at encouraging “men to identify with their Christian beliefs through what they wear”. One look at the Lionheart web site reveals clothing designs that are both cool and classy. Catholics will find many familiar symbols gracing the t-shirts and hats, but the art is in the subtlety of the designs. I’m looking forward to seeing my fifteen year old son in the triquetra symbol shirt with its “Be Perfect” message. When you visit www.lionheartapparel.com you’ll find that along with your basic product descriptions, each design also includes a description of the symbol and an accompanying verse from scripture.
Saab and Colletti are about more than just creating shirts with Lionheart. Their goal is to help men make a statement “to declare their Christian beliefs to the world without saying a word”. Their business model includes selling only “sweatshop free” products and giving 10% of all proceeds to charity. Plans for their enterprise include a men’s magazine and a line of clothing for women.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Tarek Saab recently and am pleased to share his comments on Lionheart, reality television, and raising Godly young men.
Q: Tarek Saab, CEO of Lionheart Apparel, thanks for your time and participation in this CatholicMom.com Spotlight. Would you please start off by telling our readers a bit about yourself and your own faith background?
A: Well, I am a Maronite Catholic from New Bedford, Massachusetts. (For those who are unfamiliar with the term "Maronite", it's the name for the Lebanese Catholic Church. It's named after St. Maron). I grew up in a small local parish called Our Lady of Purgatory where I served as an altar boy for about ten years. My faith has always been extremely important to me, and even as I encountered the inevitable rough patches in college, I never strayed too far from my core belief in God. The older I get, the more I realize how far away I am from the guy I want to be. If you read a book about any saint you start to realize just what it means to be truly committed to your faith!
Q: Before we talk about your new enterprise, I have to take a moment to ask you about your experience as a contestant on "The Apprentice". As a man of faith, did you find your experience with reality television to be a challenge or an opportunity with regards to living out your faith journey?
A: That's a good question, because a lot of people have commented about how the show encourages greed and the yearning for material possessions. Donald Trump isn't the most morally upstanding guy, either. I don't really have a great answer other than to say I always viewed the experience as nothing more than a game show - a sophisticated game show about business. The truth is, I never really had a burning desire to work for Trump. I saw the opportunity as a great way to open up doors. I prayed a lot during my time on the show, because I knew it would change my life. I said a rosary before every boardroom. I wondered what God had in store for me, how I ended up on the show. The most obvious pitfall is having delusions of grandeur - getting caught up in the fame. But if you can stay humble through the experience, you have an opportunity to touch a lot of people. Hopefully we're doing that to a small degree with Lionheart Apparel.
Q: Please tell our readers about Lionheart Apparel. How did the company get its start and what is your mission for Lionheart?
A: I have a close group of friends from college who are all athletic, intelligent, Catholic men, and one of the topics we inevitably discuss when we get together is the lack of strong masculine presence in the Church today. If you walk into most parishes, it's rare that you'll find a very large number of men. That hasn't always been the case. It's as though Catholic men have lost their identity, and for the men who are still vocal about their faith, they feel like they're one in a million.
My business partner, David Colletti, and I decided to start a Christian clothing line with the mission to inspire Christian men to make a strong statement about their identity through their clothing. The designs are not overt. We use Christian symbols representing a variety of things, from Jesus to St. John the Baptist, to the trinity. Some of the symbols are common, some are not so common. The idea is that the shirts and hats will be a reminder of what's truly important, that they will be good conversation starters, and that they will bring Christian men together.
Q: I see that a portion of your proceeds go to charities. Could you tell us more about why you're doing this and about the charities you are supporting through Lionheart?
A: We donate ten percent of our profits to two Pro-life Charities - Human Life International and the Catholic Pro-life Committee. As I said earlier, the company is about more than just selling t-shirts and hats. We want to help create a picture of what manhood is all about. As the saying goes, "clothes don't make the man." We believe that's true. It's all about our actions, and we think we are setting a great example by taking a strong stand against abortion. Hopefully, if guys see that Lionheart Apparel will defend innocent life in lieu of sales and in spite of criticism, maybe they will be more courageous individually. As men, we are hardwired to defend innocent life at all costs, even at the risk of our own lives. It's what makes us men. Sadly, many have lost touch with reality.
Q: What makes the message of your apparel so special? Also, can you say a word or two about your production policies?
A: Our company slogan is "Identify Yourself." We think that men can make a strong statement through what they wear. Though the designs are simple and subtle, they are deep in meaning. We want guys to wear the clothing as a reflection and a reminder of who they are.
As a religious company, we have a policy against sourcing products from China or any other country where there is known religious oppression. It affects the bottom line, but it's important that we stay true to our principles.
Q: For Catholic parents reading this interview, what type of advice would you give to parents looking to help their sons grow into Godly men? Who were some of your role models growing up and how did they help you to become the type of man you are today?
A: The best role models are the saints. The writings of Augustine and Aquinas are as fresh as they were hundreds of years ago. As a teenager, I looked at St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Louis and St. Francis as men I wanted to emulate.
Parents need to live up to the responsibility of being role models at home. The old expression "Do as I say, not as I do" just doesn't fly. We learn so much from our parents, and that education isn't always communicated verbally. The greatest lesson we can teach is the importance of detachment from our material possessions and from an overabundance of stimuli. In an entertainment-driven culture, we are constantly searching for bright lights and big sounds. We're afraid of silence. The greatest thing you can do for your family is to remove the one-eyed monster - your television. If hearing those words gives you cardiac arrest because you can't stand to live without your Cosby reruns, then your children will suffer.
Q: Which of the designs is your own personal favorite and what type of feedback are you getting on your products?
A: The feedback has been overwhelming, and all the designs have been very well-received. Hopefully that will translate into some sales for us. My personal favorite is the Marian Monogram with the saying "Mirror of Justice." It's just a cool design. They're all kind of like my babies, though, so it's tough to pick. We will release the symbols for St. Peter and St. Paul in the next couple of months, and they are just incredible. I can't wait for those!
Q: Tarek, I loved my visit to your website at www.LionheartApparel.com - what are some of your goals for the site as a compliment to your product line?
A: In keeping with the spirit of the company, there are two sections of our website that are devoted to promoting Christian manhood. One is "The Lion's Den". On a weekly basis, we ask a notable author to write an editorial for us on various topics related to manhood. My partner and I wrote the first two, and the next one is from Kevin Vost, the author of "Memorize the Faith." The other section is called "Man of the Month." Each month we select a Christian athlete/actor/artist in the public eye, and we interview him about the challenges of being a Christian man in the world today. It's a great place to find good role models.
Q: Tarek Saab, thanks so much for your time and participation in this interview. Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to share with our readers?
A: Well since you asked, I'd love to put in a shameless plug for my new book entitled "GUT CHECK: Confronting Love, Work, and Manhood in Your Twenties." It will be released in the Spring of 2007 through Spence Publishing. If you want a reminder, shoot me an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. It'll be a great handbook for the high school or college grad. God bless!
For more information on Lionheart Apparel visit www.lionheartapparel.com.
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com,. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.