Ish Jimenez, master trimmer and former star of MTV’s hit television show “Pimp My Ride,” singlehandedly made auto upholstery cool again.
Prior to the show’s debut in 2004, the auto upholstery industry was idling. Very few young people were learning the craft, the vast majority of our customers were older, and to most automakers and enthusiasts car interiors were an afterthought.
Then suddenly – seemingly out of nowhere – the world’s most popular TV channel for youth began broadcasting footage of Ish customizing car interiors in the wildest of ways.
Week after week, millions of viewers tuned in to “Pimp My Ride” to watch Ish, along with the entire West Coast Customs team, transform one teen’s beat-up car into a dream machine.
West Coast Customs spared no expense and went to great lengths to wow and inspire viewers with every new project. Of course, head-turning body mods, paint and rims were a staple. But where the cars really shined was on the inside, where Ish wrapped seats, door panels, dashboards and more in beautiful leather and other fabrics.
His charismatic personality, creative eye and serious skills behind the sewing machine cast a spotlight on our craft and helped a whole new generation of car enthusiasts appreciate what we do.
And he didn’t stop there. Since “Pimp My Ride,” Ish has gone on to star in several other TV shows, including “Inside West Coast Customs” on Velocity and “Street Customs” on TLC. He even co-hosted a program on Telemundo.
Now on his own — running Royal Auto Designs in North Hollywood, California — Ish continues to use his fame and platform to represent the auto upholstery industry well.
We recently caught up with Ish to chat about his past success, new venture, the current state of the industry and plans for the future — including his dream to teach the next generation of upholsterers by hosting workshops in his garage.
We split the interview into a three-part series. Check out the first installment below:
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get involved in the craft of auto upholstery? And where did you receive your training?
Well, to be honest, the way I started, I was 11 or 12. It was back in 1983, ’84. Growing up as a Mexican in South Central Los Angeles, you only had two choices: You join the gang or you join the gang. I started gang banging when I was like 12 years old.
I got caught up in some trouble and I was put on probation. So my mom used to come pick me up from school and drop me off at my uncle’s [auto upholstery] shop. He used to have a shop on Vermont and Florence Avenue, South Central Los Angeles. At the beginning, I didn’t like the idea to work for my uncle. Then, I started making money. I said, “Man, this is what I’m going to do.” I knew right away that I wasn’t good for school, so I stuck with upholstery. Next thing you know I was doing things on my own, like, “Oh shit, this is good!”
So it was your uncle who trained you. How long did you stay with him?
I worked with him a little bit less than three years straight. It took me like two years and a half to learn the trade. Then, after that, I start doing things on my own. Then, going back and forth with him. You know that was family. I love my uncle, so I kept going back and forth.
Then did you open your own shop?
No, not really. Like I said, I was a troublemaker when I was a little kid. I learned the trade, then I went back to the streets, getting myself in trouble. I never had the chance to open my own shop til 1994. I opened a shop in South Central and actually I was doing really good. I was like 20-something years old and had a badass shop in South Central. I was doing good, but at the same time I was messing up on the streets. I got caught up on some other bullshit, so I had to shut the shop.
What was the name of that shop?
I did not even have a shop name, bro. … Everybody used to call me “Little Homie,” and we used to call [each other] homies, homies, homies…it’s like, “Hey, just go to Homie’s.” They knew that was my spot. I never named the shop, everybody knew, “Just go to Homie’s.”
Eventually, though, you stopped getting into trouble and hooked up with West Coast Customs, where you worked on a lot of amazing projects and were even catapulted to fame on the hit TV show “Pimp My Ride.” How did that come about? And how has being famous changed your life?
I ain’t going to lie, it was good. … I remember back in 2001, some people walking through West Coast. … We were really known because we used to do Shaquille O’Neal’s cars, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Mystikal. When I saw those people coming into the shop, Ryan [owner of West Coast Customs] put a quick meeting together and he said, “Hey, man, these guys are from MTV. They want to do this.” I said, “Fuck it, let’s do it!”
Next thing you know, we’re like everywhere. “What’s up man, what’s up pimp? What’s up? What’s up?” Like, “Oh shit!” That was a good thing, though, to be honest. I was young. I enjoyed it. It was good money, a lot of women, and a lot of fun.
Suddenly everyone knew your name. You became a celebrity.
Yeah. That was the other story. People were like, “Oh man, you’re the best!” I said, “No, man, I’m not the best. I’m just the lucky one, I guess.” You understand what I’m saying? That’s how I feel about that. That was some blessing. It was a good experience.
Do people still recognize you to this day?
Oh yeah. After “Pimp My Ride,” Ryan did another show with TLC. Then, Velocity. Then, I starred in my own show on Spanish television. I did like three seasons for Telemundo.
No kidding. What was that show called?
“Nitido” like “neat.” I was a co-host in the West Coast, the main host was in Miami, Florida. Just to cover everything, auto show, whatever has to do with cars on the West Coast. That was good. People, at some point, they were telling me, “Man, you should go to Hollywood.” I said, “No, man.” At the end of all these things, I want to be doing what I love to do: cars.
I am who I am because of what I do. I want to be like Mr. George Barris, rest in peace, good friend of mine. He’s going to be remembered as a car guy. He’s a legend in the car industry. If I got blessed to be recognized like that one day, like, “Oh yeah, the upholstery guy.” That would be my major accomplishment.
These days, you’re no longer doing TV. And I hear you left West Coast Customs, is that correct?
I’m not at West Coast no more, bro. After 16 years, I decided to open my own shop.
When did you leave West Coast Customs and for what reason?
Like seven, eight months ago. Know what? When I started working at West Coast Customs, it was like a friend relation between me and the CEO. The company started growing to the point that he had to bring people to help him run the company, which is understandable. There’s no way that he can control a big company like West Coast by himself. With that, it brings distance. I wasn’t feeling it no more. I was feeling like I was working for the White House or something.
Like a big corporation, as opposed to the small close-knit company it started out as?
Exactly. Like okay, now you’re not allowed to talk to the boss “unless you go through me.” … I got tired of that. At the same time, I got a lot of people telling me, “Man, why don’t you open your own shop?” One day, I just woke up, I said, “Man, you know what? That’s it.” I never went back. And I’m not planning to come back.
Well, congrats on the new shop! Tell us about it.
It’s called Royal Auto Designs in North Hollywood. So far I got six guys working for me, but I’m doing a little bit of everything. I’m doing paint, body kits, lowering. … I try to do everything in-house. Although my main thing is still upholstery. That’s what I’m really known for, upholstery.
Stay tuned for part two of our three-part series, in which Ish Jimenez talks about the technical side of auto upholstery. Among the topics we discuss are how he comes up with his ideas for interiors, repairing sewing machines, steaming leather and wrapping dashboards.
Also, check out Ish’s new shop Royal Auto Designs online at RoyalAutoDesigns.com, and follow them on Instagram.
Congratulations to you, master Ish, for having taken the decision to run your own business…you’re friendly, famous, and very skilled, so, good expectations and more success will come for you!
Tony Garcia says
Good for you Brother.. wish you luck
Ron Patrick says
Ish I saw the workyou did and your an artist. Glad things worked out for you and best wishes
with your own shop. I do miss you on West Cost. But knowing your happy and offthe streets
is great. I was young once and I did a lot of things also. Best wishes
All The Best
If you ever need solar emailme I charge 10% over cost and it will save you thousands
Juan Velasquez says
GREAT TO HEAR YOUR DOING YOUR THANG BROTHER… I THINK the FAME might of Gotten to RYANS head … Keep the Strategy Going and Let me know if you need Help in the Marketing DEPT… It will Create A lot more Business and KEEP YOUR GUYS SUPER BUSY
I miss you on WCC Ish. You were the main reason I watched. I’m very happy you got your own shop! Best of luck to you and you’re business and family in 2016!
Jesse Ramirez says
big fan congrats on your own shop i wish i could your an inspiration to all Latinos everywhere especially in Texas, keep up the good work!!!
Type of guy who deserve’s to be blessed.
Los up….Thats the homie Ishito aka Lil Homie from that SOUTH LOS GANG . I heard about him he was a shooter. Hk all day everyday even on Jesus Birthday. V.SOXLOS13 Babylocos hook me up with a job Ish
Botta boom batta bing…. congratulations ish god bless good luck bro
Big Mike says
My friend John Rivera runs a upholstery shop in Struthers ohio 5 mins from youngstown ohio and does the best work in town it’s called Johnsons upholstery he and one guy Davey do all work start to finish and even he said your a badazz upholstery guy so Salud and Congrats
Te dejates ki Loco always watched u on TV Buena suerte hommie my god bless u holmes
Ismael J Martinez says
Much respeto to U karnalito and diosito te bendiga and keep Ur head up high and saludos. Congratulations on Ur shop and represent la RAZA Q-VO
To step out on your own is is a great adventure. I enjoyed seeing you on WCC. The show won’t be the same without you. When a company like WCC grows big they lose a lot. They lose the people who got them to where they are. Take all the good you learned from WCC and build on that. you will do great. The same thing happened to me. Helped star a company, it got big, managers came in, I was forced out, started my own company, ran it for 28 years, and retired. Best thing that ever happened to me was getting forced out. Some of us need that push.
Good luck Ish.
Mario Ortega says
Hey Ish, congrats on going on your own. I’ve got a 56 F-100 rod project in mock up that could use your expertise but don’t. know if I can afford a movie star. Ive got a Roddoors ABS complete kit in hand. I left Califa for E. Tx. but think you could do it minus the truck. Get ahold of me.
Well done ish keep the good work as usual stay blessed
I want to know how do you sew inserts into a seat and make it have the wrinkled gathering look. I have tried and haven’t had any consistency or “luck” as it maybe at this point. I want to duplicate the original look which had big gathered wrinkles in the leather inserts of the seat. Please comment and help with any of your suggestions. Thanks you Ryan
Sgt Hernandez Alejandro says
Good for you. May God Bless you in all you do. Just remember to remain humble.
Dont forget your true roots and continue to teach your trade.
Continua trabajando duro y no te olvides que la fama y el dinero no lo son todo
Tienes mucho talento y la tapiceria es un arte cuando el tapicero disfruta su oficio.
Que Dios te siga bendiciendo
I loved that show especially ish, I do upholstery also specialise in deep buttoning been dong it for around 25 years.So if you see this Ish give me a job.
r m navarro says
I love Ish!! What is the website address?
Still in business?
Good Luck bro, from Greg M., in Seguin Tx. God Bless.
I love Ish Jimenez’s Upholstery Work.
Where is the address for Ish Jimenez’s
Royal Auto Designs in North Hollywood?
Even the internet (Google) only gives La Puente, CA address [permanently closed].
Why Don’t you post a business card on Instagram, Twitter (just the address info.), and Facebook?
You will get a ton of business.
Vous souhaite bon courage.
Alan kunesh says
Ish thank you for having the courage for leaving to go on your own your right he forget who helped him get where he is in time you will get some of his clients.does he ever commu icate with yoy?
Cby Bailey says
I binge watched all the WCC shows while I was sick and looked forward to seeing your exchanges with Ryan. It was so abrupt how it all changed when they moved to the new location. I didn’t see the usual guys like “Ish” and “Kenny”. My first thought was Ryan got too big for his britches. I’m happy to hear you are doing good on your own. Only the best to you Ish!
thomas williams says
hey ish congrats on new journey
thomas williams says
hey ish congrats on new shop
john watters says
Best of luck Ish, I read the article and Ryan is like many who want it all for themselves and don’t see the big picture…loyalty is gained by sharing success. You and Kenny were the driving force to ‘get it done’ and it wasn’t appreciated. Go for it and enjoy the family.
John W UK
Bieber is Wiggity-Wack says
Ryan definitely doesn’t share his success, he abused temp and undocumented labor for a long time and only got a slap on the wrist in 2014. The fact that he thinks it’s okay for all his workers to pull in 12+ hours every day means he doesn’t respect them as human beings with families (they even broadcasted his absurd selfishness when a worker was having a baby and working the next day).
You know Ryan wasn’t paying his boys their fair share, despite them being responsible for his wealth. Hell, they were constantly “joking” about it on the show, probably the only time they could publicly vent about his greedy ass. The dude has the personality of a Glade Plugins salesman.
Ryan and his top brass are multi-millionaires, but I guarantee that none of his closest boys have ever made a mil over the decade+ of working there.
Héctor Gonzalez says
Quiero felicitarte x tu trabajo yo soy de Saltillo, México y te va ir muy bien .
Me gusta tu carisma y eso te va abrir muchas puertas.
Richard Moreno says
Hello Ish What’s your address to your shop Royal auto designs In North Hollywood California… Thanks!