The Jewish Light
There's "funky", and then there's "frum." And those two words do not necessarily go hand in hand. In fact, "frum" - or religious - is all-too-often aligned with "frumpy," a word that has come to describe the style-less look that can result from modest dress.
Rachel Lubchansky is out to change all that.
Lubchansky, a local St. Louisan who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, came up with the idea of FunkyFrum.com - which launches on Aug. 15 - after being approached often by people wanting to know where she got her clothes.
"As a style-sensitive, modest, modern Orthodox woman living in a city like St. Louis, it's hard to find modest apparel," Lubchansky said. "They saw new and unique fashionable things, which you don't often find in modest apparel in St. Louis."
Several people even approached her - knowing her background in fashion
- about setting up a fashion business for Orthodox women in St. Louis.
After much deliberation and a lot of research, Lubchansky put together a business plan for "an online retailer catering to fashion-savvy women committed to a modest lifestyle."
And while FunkyFrum.com started as a site geared toward Orthodox women, it is attracting attention from people of all walks of life.
"We announced the idea and the launch of the business a couple of months ago," Lubchansky said, "and one of the things that I was most excited and surprised about was the level of interest across the Jewish spectrum, and even across religions."
Laurie Landay - who has received a sneak peak at the fall line - describes herself as "far from Orthodox," but said "Rachel's stuff is extremely fashionable, interesting and unique. The skirts happen to be longer, but that's about it, so it's not like you would shop with her and all of a sudden run around appearing as if you are frum."
Daniel Stankey is the photographer for the site. He is also a father of two teenage daughters. Stankey said: "As a father of two young teenage daughters you wonder what some of these people are thinking when they're putting clothes on the shelves. I'm Christian, but I can't tell you how many times we look at our daughters and say, 'You can't wear that to church.' I was looking at the clothes and I was just amazed at how stylish they were and the fact that they were what I would deem as much more appropriate."
Michelle Soudry lives in Boca Raton, Fla., and went to FIT with Lubchansky. Soudry now works as a marketing guru for fashion and beauty accounts as owner and president of the Gab Group. She said: "I have non-Jewish clients who have certain religious functions and have said that they are looking for a modest evening dress or a modest outfit and asked if I know of anyplace. I refer them to Rachel because I really do not know of any other retailer that caters themselves to the stylish modest market." Soudry noted that she thought one important factor rested in the fact that "Rachel wasn't always living a modest lifestyle, and went from being non-religious to being very religious and found all the modest clothing offered to be very un-stylish, bland and old. She's a young girl who appreciates style and fashion, and so she thought of a way whereby she could offer fashionable clothes in accordance with the laws of modesty for women out there who don't want to sacrifice style for modesty."
The concept of FunkyFrum.com was announced several months ago, and while Lubchansky is waiting to do most of the advertising once the site has launched, she said she has already witnessed a tremendous response.
Hilary Hickman - who graduated from Washington University with a degree in visual communication - designed and developed the website and said, "In my experience working with large corporations, I have never seen anything like this," referring to the number of people who have registered on the site in the short amount of time since its inception. "I've done all sorts of things for international companies where we've given away free things to every person who signed up, and only gotten two responses. Rachel is giving away one free handbag, and the response she's gotten has been amazing," Hickman said.
Avital and Nechama Dina Simon - who attend Bais Yaakov High School in University City, and also received a sneak peak at the collection - said that everyone their age is already talking about the site. “My friend called me from Los Angeles and she had heard about it," Avital said. The rage, according to the girls, lies in the fact that the site truly is catering to a very real demand.
"My whole family was talking about how we always wanted something like this," Nechama Dina said. "My dad wanted to quit his job and become a designer of cool, frum, tzniut (modest) clothing, because you can't find anything like that. You go into a mall and try to find clothes for hours." They even said their friends sometimes go out of town to get a nice suit or outfit, and their neighbors get shipments from Cleveland or New York of a box of clothing, "because they can't find anything here."
According to the Simons, it is not just a matter of finding clothing that is "appropriate", but rather finding clothing that is appropriate, of good quality and stylish.
"You can find skirts and long sleeved shirts, but they're all junky, or not cool." Avital said. "Rachel's stuff is not trashy, it's so cool and everything is so modern."
Lubchansky currently resides in St. Louis with her husband, Adam, and the launch party will be at their University City home on Aug. 15. "We're moving all of the furniture and setting our house up as a boutique for the day," Lubchansky said. "It is open to the entire community and everybody is welcome from 5 to 9 in the evening. There will be fitting rooms so that people can come and shop, mingle, enter into a raffle, and so forth."
For more information about the grand opening, call 314-863-4026.
Keren Douek is a staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com