Peruse the pages of fashion magazines or comb through racks in clothing stores and you’re sure to see lots of lovely outfits you can’t wear. Hems too high. Necklines too low. Sleeves? Well, in the summer you can’t even find them. But an Israeli company is meeting the demand for clothing that covers all the right bases while still being fashionable and comfortable.
“We’ll go to fashion stores and see what’s in, and re-interpret the look for the modest market,” said Gary Swickley, CEO of Kosher Casual. “We talk to customers all the time and we look at the internet to get ideas.” An in-house designer translates the styles to fit Kosher Casual’s brand.
Swickley, an American with a Harvard MBA who has been living in Israel for 26 years, entered the clothing market the year after he arrived by purchasing overruns made in Israel for export that he could sell at very low prices. When the Far East began to undermine the garment industry in Israel a few years later, he used his manufacturing contacts to make lines of camp and school clothing; several day schools in Teaneck and Manhattan were customers. He began hearing from people outside of the schools who wanted similar, modest clothing styles and realized there was enough demand to expand his focus from groups to individuals. He started Kosher Casual about nine years ago.
Kosher Casual is “growing like crazy,” said Swickley. His clothing is available on his website www.koshercasual.com and brings in customers from all over the world. “We have a very successful track record of low returns. We design knowing that our customers are 6,000 miles away. The company has a large warehouse in Israel where the distribution is handled, with a small retail store connected to it. Teaneck’s Carly’z Craze is one of the only U.S. retail stores to carry Kosher Casual designs. Co-owner Aline Brodsky used to be a representative for the company and when she opened her store, Swickley became her main supplier.
As the name implies, Kosher Casual has broad lines of women’s and girls’ clothing for everyday activities, with dressier options added in the last two years. Layering tops, loose or fitted, are popular with a range of necklines and sleeve lengths. Lightweight fitted Lycra tops can be used as a base; darker colors can be worn alone. The cropped shell began as a must-have for maternity wear—a practical option for a growing belly—but is being embraced by women who find the short length cooler in the summer. At the other end of the spectrum, the handkerchief hem and high-low look are in vogue.
The skater skirt, with an A-line, flowing look is a big seller. Colors tend to be seasonal, with pastels and muted pinks in the summer and shades of burgundy in the winter.
The workout wear and swimwear category has exploded this year, said Swickley. “I used to have one or two options; now it’s a whole, huge category.” Swim skirt lengths go to the knee and beyond. Or you can get an “apres swim skirt” to throw over a traditional swimsuit.
While keeping an eye on trends, Kosher Casual tries to stay basic. To keep returns low, the company’s designers create looks that are not overly tailored. “We don’t want frustrated customers,” Swickley said. Many styles have been around for multiple years and he said it doesn’t make sense to change them. Often he will add new colors and size ranges, based on customer requests. He might bring back a favorite skirt from 20 years ago, and tweak it.
Kosher Casual’s customer base has grown beyond the observant Jewish community. Swickley does business with select Christian organizations and calls them “the nicest people in the world, very gracious and thankful.” He is also entering new marketplaces including Amazon Europe.
The garment industry can be a very “dog eat dog” business, according to Swickley, but he has been able to stay above the fray by keeping in contact with customers and being responsive to their needs. “We get fan mail every day,” he said.
By Bracha Schwartz