Why you should care
Because who says covered knees can’t be fun and feminine?
Sisters-in-law Mimi Hecht and Mushky Notik put the “Mi” and “Mu” in Mimu Maxi, a Brooklyn-based fashion label that pushes the boundaries of style — with an Orthodox twist. Their biggest seller is the skirt legging, a long, very slim skirt made with stretchy material that leaves just enough to the imagination.
Hold on to your snoods, people: Modest clothing is going chic, and Hecht and Notik are among the designers leading the charge. Though their business grew out of their own frustration with finding stylish clothing that adhered to Orthodox Jewish laws of modesty, its customers now include Muslims, Christians and those who don’t belong to any religion.
Since their official launch less than a year ago, they’ve gone from filling five orders a week to filling 50, and they’ve earned more than $100,000 in sales since. Chalk it up to their breezy aesthetic, affordable prices and community — or as they call it, “com-Mimu-nity” — building, from responding to every Facebook comment to featuring photos of customers modeling their clothing on Instagram, each photo racking up at least 100 likes.
Layers, movement, fabrics draping down is more appealing to me than a basic slip dress.
— Mushky Notik
While modest clothing is a sliver of the $1 trillion-plus fashion industry, it’s newly ascendant in the U.S., thanks to an immigrant population that’s swelling — the number of Muslim immigrants doubled from 1992 to 2012, according to a Pew Research Center report, for instance. Many refuse to sacrifice style for religious belief.
Other players include brands like Malaysia-based, Muslim-friendly November Culture, as well as blogs like Summer Albarcha’s Hipster Hijabis and Mormon fashion writer Tessa Leigh’s Totally Tessa. Modest chic has also bloomed in Israel, whose homegrown department store Mashbir carries long skirts and long-sleeved tops for Jewish and Muslim shoppers. And DKNY recently launched its first-ever Ramadan collection in the Middle East, featuring floor-length skirts, printed tops and vibrant maxi dresses.
But the movement might just transcend religion: Covering up is in. Even runway looks and style icons like Olivia Palermo and the Olsen twins are turning to layers and long skirts. Hecht, 28, says some of Mimu Maxi’s buyers are surprised to discover it’s a modest brand.
A full-length dress is “more beautiful and regal,” says Notik, 25. “Layers, movement, fabrics draping down is more appealing to me than a basic slip dress. … There’s a whole interesting story.”
Quiet and wide-eyed, Notik handles the finances and keeps everything running like clockwork. Hecht is the marketing guru, tall with a wild mane of sable hair and a full-throated laugh. She handles the brand’s gregarious social marketing. Chatting with them from their Tiffany-blue-painted Brooklyn office feels a little like a slumber party, heaped with side jokes and sarcasm. Even before Notik got engaged to Hecht’s brother, the two “totally connected,” gushes Hecht.
Pre-Mimu Maxi, Hecht oversaw social media for a creative agency startup, while Notik managed customer service for an online retailer. Both had serious fashion fever. Notik wanted go to fashion school but put her plans on hold while she started a family. Hecht loved scouting vibrant vintage pieces.
We thought, ‘Let’s just take this into our own hands.’
-– Mimi Hecht
They also knew too well the frustration of finding chic clothes that also fit Orthodox standards. The Torah’s laws of tznius, or modesty, require women to cover elbows and collarbones, and to wear stockings and skirts that go past the knee. Hecht and Notik had to make do with dowdy Orthodox garb. Sometimes they altered see-through, slit maxi skirts from H&M and Zara. Others, they’d spot the perfect item online — only to discover that it cost hundreds of dollars.
“We thought, ‘Let’s just take this into our own hands,’” Hecht says.
Two summers ago, the duo hunkered down in Notik’s storage room to design a maxi-skirt line. They trudged through the sodden heat to buy fabric samples in Manhattan. “We were just schlepping our kids into the city, carrying our strollers up and down the subway,” Hecht remembers with a full-throated laugh. (Notik has one child; Hecht, two.)
When they launched their online store in 2012, Orthodox women in their Crown Heights neighborhood snatched up their skirts almost immediately. A month later, they were fielding order requests from predominantly Muslim Malaysia. Today, their customers come from all over the world.
Design ideas often come from fashion magazines and blogs, but ultimately “it comes down what I want to wear,” Notik says. “It has to do with basics and comfort and being a mom.” Think cropped, buttoned sleeves and subtle pleats that give billowy tunics a feminine silhouette — and that skinny skirt-legging, too. When modest fashion blogger and mom Stephanie Ramirez tried the skirt legging with her younger sister, she wrote, “It fits anyone from a young teen … to a working woman on the run. Super fun and easy to wear!”
Many Orthodox customers erupted in anger, calling the photo ‘insensitive’ for its ‘bad timing.’ Others called for a boycott.
But Hecht and Notik have faced some blowback. Last month, they reposted a photo of Albarcha, the Muslim fashion blogger, wearing their lime green skirt leggings, slouched blouse and hijab to Mimu Maxi’s Facebook page and Instagram. Many Orthodox customers erupted in anger, calling the photo “insensitive” for its “bad timing” given the recent violence between Israel and Hamas. Others called for a boycott.
Hecht and Notik responded with an open letter, calling out the customers for intolerance. They praised Albarcha’s ensemble as “modest, feminine and beautiful” and pointed out that Muslims’ and Jews’ shared support of modesty should be promoted “more than ever … especially now.”
A few days later, they began receiving apologies, even handwritten notes. “Social media doesn’t have to be nasty and negative,” Hecht says. “It really changed the way people think.”
Right now, the two are designing their fall collection and hope to begin hiring employees. There’s definitely space. In the U.S., online apparel retail is expected to reach a compound annual growth rate of around 16 percent from 2012 to 2016.
But something greater guides them, says the sisters-in-law.
“Mimu Maxi is an entity on its own,” Hecht says. “We get to make the decisions and have fun doing it. The growth has been so from above. Everything is just divine.”