Wednesday, March 18, 2015

HOT AND MODEST FASHION - Kosher or Oxymoron?

Sde Bar Fashion’s
Avitan, Cohen and Elbaz
(photo: Studio Nehora)
YBA Alumni Profiles: ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention’ at the Mother of all Ulpanot, UBA Kfar Pines

There are those who will claim that designing fashionable frocks for religious women is somewhat akin to trying to prepare fine French cuisine while adhering to the laws of Kosher - it just can't be done. But there is a growing number of young religious designers who are making the restrictions of modesty increasingly irrelevant.

The Sde Bar Fashion brand has been popular among girls in the religious Zionist sector for almost five years now. The brand has its own retail store on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem and is available at a handful of fashion boutiques around the country. 

But its collection is mainly marketed through Tupperware-style fashion parties hosted by women in communities with large religious populations, or through direct orders from the brand’s Facebook page. Over 4,500 Friends on Facebook flood the company with requests to host sales parties all over the country, and with fashion questions on the latest styles and trends.

The brand was founded in 2010 by Ariella Avitan from Moshav Nir Galim near Ashdod, Adi Cohen from the settlement of Beit El and Shuli Elbaz, who lives in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The three 24 year-old entrepreneurs have been girlfriends since they met in high school at UBA Ramat Karniel at Moshav Kfar Pines.  The school was the first residential Bnei Akiva Ulpana high school for girls, founded in 1960, and is considered the prototype “Mother of all Ulpanot” in Israel. Today the school continues to maintain its reputation as one of the finest schools in the country, serving over 450 girls from all parts of Israel in grades 9-12.

(photo: Studio Nehora)
"Usually secular designers don’t think about modesty," says Avitan. "I remember once the three of us went shopping before one holiday to buy a nice new outfit - but the fashion stores had nothing that would meet our requirements for modesty: cover the knees, elbows, not too exposed, or too tight. So we started to make clothes for ourselves with the school’s sewing machine in our free time. Very quickly we started selling outfits to the other girls at the Ulpana as well."

The Sde Bar collection is a romantic-rustic style that hits the spot for a large part of the young religious population in Israel. The outfits have been seen on Yifat, the religious graphic designer character on the “Srugim" TV series and on Anhal Shmueli (Shoshi), from the “Race to the Million" reality show. Pastel romantic dresses with lace lines sprouting from the cleavage, and a layered appearance of a jumper over a three quarter length shirt sleeve.

"Fashion is part of our culture, but while a religious style has already been defined in Israeli music, culture and film – I feel that there is no defined religious style in fashion," says Avitan. "At Sde Bar we are trying to create fashion that is influenced by our way of life. We produce one collection per season, but I'm always surprised to find that women in each sub-segment acquire the things that fit their particular style. For example, girls from religious kibbutzim choose other colors than girls from Ra’anana. Even the way they layer their clothing differs; our line appears as if we sewed the garments especially for them. In Nir Galim the women buy a lot of Aladdin-style baggy pants, something the women in Jerusalem will not buy. "

(photo: Studio Nehora)
Adi Cohen adds: “Today religious girls have created a fashion which consists of mixing styles. In our mothers’ generation girls had to wear one layer on top of another to be modest. There just was no supply of fashionable clothes for religious women. Our generation has rebelled against that - we want to wear something designed especially for us."

Although the three owners/designers define Sde Bar as a brand dedicated to the religious niche, they are also targeting secular women. The collection includes several items that would not be considered within the accepted bounds of modesty required by religious women; for example, sleeveless dresses with cleavage, or wide necklines.  "It’s difficult to produce a modest garment without compromises in the necklines and sleeves and be beautiful at the same time," says Shuli Elbaz. "As a brand, we have to produce a variety of garments to appeal to a wide audience of women. We bring a special kind of look; romantic, softer, more feminine."

Sde Bar Fashion will participate in this month’s "Pomp and Circumstance Dressed" Fashion Fair aimed at women of the religious community (March 11-13 at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, March 20-23 at the Wohl Auditorium at Bar Ilan University, and March 23-24 at the Kastera Shopping Center in Haifa).

Portions of this article were originally published in Hebrew on  

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