Danny Kurtzman designs for life

The headquarters of Ezekiel Clothing is tucked in a bland office park in Irvine, California, but inside it’s anything but bland, with its too-cool-for-school interior of concrete, charred timber, and smoky steel. When I arrived there, tapping tentatively on an unmarked, tinted glass door, I wondered if I had come to the right place. Soon, a shadow darted up behind the dark glass, and the door swung open to reveal Danny Kurtzman, perched on a red scooter.

Kurtzman, 31, is co-owner of the company. With his russet hair, trim beard, and piercing gaze, he is an undeniable presence. Although FSH muscular dystrophy has taken a toll on his muscles, his mind is constantly on the move, twirling and swooping like the surfers and skateboarders to whom his clothing line appeals.

Kurtzman and his younger brother (who passed away in 2008 from FSHD) were diagnosed in childhood. “My parents told me and my brother that you’re going to public school. You’re playing baseball. You’re not made out of glass,” he said matter-of-factly. That can-do attitude shaped how his friends saw him. “They never looked at me like ‘you have a disability.’ ”

After graduating in 2009 from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he studied business administration in entrepreneurship and marketing, Kurtzman went into the family’s garment manufacturing business. The company bought Ezekiel Clothing, which does private label for retailers like Nordstrom Rack and Stitch Fix, and Kurtzman mastered the complexities of running the enterprise.

On the day of my visit, Kurtzman was excited about his latest brand, ALDAY Denim, a line of knit denim men’s pants that combines the comfort of sweatpants with the swagger of denim. His team was about to launch a Kickstarter, which would raise $67,000 to jump-start the brand. 

Kurtzman is passionate about great design, particularly universally accessible design. He invested in WHILL, a company that makes wheelchairs with the sleek appeal of an iPhone, and offered advice to improve the design. He recently flew to San Francisco for a two-day hackathon at Google, putting together a wheelchair that can be controlled by an Android app.

Outspoken in his belief that “FSHD doesn’t define me,” Kurtzman is an avid supporter of Life Rolls On, a California nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities through adaptive skateboarding and surfing.

Right now, Kurtzman is completing an extensive renovation of his new home in Costa Mesa. The house embodies universal design, he said proudly, with all smart home features, zero steps or thresholds, wide doorways, and accessible bathrooms.

Asked about his philosophy for living, Kurtzman replied, “Giving up isn’t a choice I give myself. I do whatever I put my mind to, regardless of how big the obstacle is, but that’s what makes overcoming them that much sweeter.

“It’s been amazing meeting more people that share the same mentality, and I hope to meet many more through this Society,” he said. “And to those who share this disease but not this mindset, feel free to contact me. Sometimes you need a friend or a brother like the one I was very lucky to have to kick you in the butt.”

Danny Kurtzman can be reached through his Instagram account @heavydk.

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