Religious and naturally-modest “fashionistas” have been reveling in the recent trend of demure, yet stylish and contemporary, fashion. Fashion designers have been listening to the complaints of parents and people who demand a more conservative style over provocative outfits, which have been so popular in recent years and have increasingly been advertised to younger and younger crowds. And now more marketers are taking note, and stores have been stocking their shelves with modest styles.
It used to be that people had limited options if they wanted more conservative apparel options. Sure, they were muumuus, baggy and shapeless shirts, and billowy skirts. But nowadays, modesty and trendy fashion can not only coexist, but have been accepted by the fashion society as high fashion.
“People are starting to understand that one can be modest and look attractive at the same time,” says Yocheved Itzkowitz, an Orthodox Jewish pharmacist who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Modest dress is making a comeback because women have had enough of being looked at by men as just bodies, and want to show the world that there is more to them than just outfits that show a lot of skin.”
Pnina Wellerstein, a religious Brooklyn College student, thinks this trend is long overdue. “I think it’s about time, if women want tot be taken seriously in the workplace,” she says. “They’ll never be taken seriously if they don’t treat their bodies with respect.”
Rachel Lubchansky is only one of the innovative entrepreneurs who have capitalized on this trend towards more modest yet fashionable dress. A graduate of the famed Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, she launched her clothing boutique website – called Funky Frum, a name that succinctly described the fashions she carries – in August 2005. For Lubchansky, becoming more observant in Judaism led to her interest in creating outlets for other frum women who were faced with a dearth of modest yet trendy clothing. Yet customers of Funky Frum are not only Jewish. Lubchansky says she has many Christian customers who appreciate her goal of combining seemliness with style.
Lubchansky was recently mentioned in U.S. News & World Report, which profiled several women who were dissatisfied with the provocative fashions in the market. “Who admires women who wear outfits that are so revealing and garish?” asks Itzkowitz. “Coming up with outfits that have class, modesty and style is much more appealing.
“There has been a real backlash against the bare-it-all culture that has swept over our society in the past few years,” says Lubchansky. “Women across the spectrum are not comfortable exposing it all, and are finding unique ways to express themselves in manners that are less revealing.” Lubchansky notes that there have been a number of conservative and demure styles coming off the runways in recent years, such as high-waisted skirts and tunic tops, styles that easily translate into tzniut (modesty).
“Dressing modestly became more of a priority for me,” says Lubchansky, “but I didn’t want to forgo my New York wardrobe and coastal sense of style.” After spending a year researching the market and the competition, Lubchansky developed a business plan and designed the site, and Funky Frum opened its virtual doors in summer 2005.
While a student at FIT, Lubchansky interned at various companies in the fashion marketing industry, ie. famous shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, where she worked on buying and merchandising for his private retail outlets.
“The demands of these professional environments taught me invaluable skills that I took with me when I moved back to St. Louis in the summer of 2002,” says Lubchansky. She also gained real world business experience working for her mother, who runs her own private music school called Beverly Milder’s Musical Arts, which she founded 30 years ago. “It was in this position that I strongly honed my skills in management, marketing, communications, and financial forecasting.”
The response to the website was an immediate and resounding success. “On the day we launched, Lubchansky marvels, “we already had a substantial mailing list of excited customers, and numerous orders came rolling in from across the country within the first 24 hours.” Since the site launched in 2005, the mailing list has increased by 400%. Sales have grown by more than 100% in the first half of 2007 compared to the same period in 2006. “We are now shipping to 49 states and more than eight countries,” says Lubchansky. “Come on, Hawaii!”
Lubchansky spends hundreds of hours culling through a variety of lines to find styles of clothing reflect the values of modesty her customers have come to expect. “My favorite shows are in New York, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Los Angeles,” she says. “Which I collectively attend up to eight times a year, and typically one season ahead.”
Since the business of Funky Frum depends on customers as far away as Alaska and Australia, Lubchansky has not plans to open a non-virtual version of the store. Still, she does have innovative ideas in mind for improving the store. “A good business always has something on the horizon,” she explains. “We continue to explore new growth opportunities and examine ways in which we can expand our market share. We have some very exciting developments in the works, so check out FunkyFrum.com to stay tuned.”
The Jewish Press