Redefining Religious Limitation Through Fashion

By Rivka Yeker

Hooligan had a chance to speak with  MIMU MAXI, a fashion line run by two Jewish sisters-in-laws that focus on modest and hip clothing. Following the Jewish law, they provide outfits for women that follow various faiths, or simply just prefer to dress up in what is most comfortable: oversized and fashionable easywear. We discussed their passion for dressing up, their intentions with MIMU MAXI, and their place in the fashion world.

 Photo via  Instagram

Photo via Instagram

Hooligan Mag: At Hooligan, we really take pride in artists that stick to their roots and create something that is completely drenched in their own culture. We love what you are doing at MIMU MAXI. How did the two of you begin doing this?

Mimi Hecht: Mushky and I are sisters-in-law (she's married to my brother), and we were spending a lot of time together. We would often talk about business ideas, ways we could use our talents and passions to create something that would make a difference and also offer us some flexibility and freedom as moms. Mushky and I always loved talking about clothing, but a lot of it was our frustration. We are orthodox Jewish women who keep Judaism's guidelines of modesty (in short, covering our collarbone, elbows, knees). We always found it hard to find clothing that lived up to our minimalistic aesthetic, that covered all the right parts, that we didn't have to make changes to, and that was affordable. We needed clothing that was just effortless, can be thrown on (without wearing things under to make it modest), that was easy to layer and play with, and that just worked. So we decided, let's just do this ourselves! We have no background in fashion. We jumped into it with a lot of willpower and vision, learning everything on the job.

HM: Did you expect the business to grow so fast and expand so much?

Mushky Notik: It was pretty amazing to see how our immediate community celebrat[ed] what we were doing. It was very clear right away that what we were designing was meeting a real need — that there were so many women like us out there who needed easy, beautiful modest clothing, but had just been "surviving" with what was out there. The real excitement began when women from outside our community starting catching on. Not only Christian and Muslim women who are modesty-minded too, but women who really couldn't care less about covering and just loved the designs.

HM: What was your intention with the garments when you first opened up shop?

MH: One of the first items we introduced was our signature Skirt Leggings, which is inspired by the ease, versatility and comfort of a good pair of leggings...but it's a skirt! When we first introduced them, they flew off the shelves. The idea that there can be a skirt that was modest, but also felt really smooth and was flattering, and can be worn every day in a new way — this was new for our community. Our intention was always to create the pieces we felt we personally needed, and it was a blessing that other women truly "got" what we were doing.

Since expanding our collection from Skirt Leggings (which is still our top seller), we've kept to that original concept: wearable, easy, uncomplicated and extremely versatile modest basics. It happens to be that our collection is very oversized. Not because a modest women can't show her form, but because we just love it. So our designs are very much a blend of our Jewish customs (the coverage) and our aesthetic (easy, flowing, loose, comfortable). Modest clothing can be beautiful and flowing and dramatic, and we love showing [that].

HM: Who buys your clothes?

MN: We obviously have a lot of Jewish customers, because that's our community and how we really took off. We also have a lot of customers who are Christian and Muslim, since their modest sensitivities are similar.

I think the most common denominator with our customers is that they are busy, confident women (often moms) who just want to get on with their day feeling and looking good, and don't want to think a ton about putting together an outfit — they want to throw on a dress or skirt that feels really easy and is flattering without doing much. All our items do that. They are simple, but still have a dramatic or fun effect. We are proud to ship all over the world, and our customer base is continuously surprising us with its diversity.

HM: In what ways are your designs reinventing the fashion world? What statement do they seem to make?

MH: I'm not sure we are reinventing the fashion world....yet! I do think we are changing people's perceptions about what makes a fashion brand. That you can be exactly who you are, put yourself out there in an honest way, be real and engaging, and have a successful business. So many women tell us they shop with us because they love how we embrace and connect women of all backgrounds, and they feel that wearing MIMU is connecting with a meaningful message. That's the best thing to hear. Clothing is important. But the people behind it, and the people who wear it, are more important.

HM: We also love the energy coming off your website, Instagram, etc. You completely destigmatize the notion attached to Chassidic Judaism, or any type of sect within a religion that practices their beliefs as a way of life. Are people ever shocked to discover that you are Chassidic because you may dress so well and stylish?

MN: Sometimes we get people who are in shock that we are wearing wigs, keep the Sabbath, Kosher...the whole shebang! We are definitely more worldly and modern than some other Chassidic sects, but that doesn't make us any less committed to and engaged with our religion. Our upbringing and lifestyle and values are always front and center, and we love showing how that's possible while having fun, doing what you love, and sharing it with other people.

Culturally, sometimes Jewish women (and men!) resort to dressing a certain way that has become custom, and sometimes that can be a bit outdated. We don't judge that. There are good reasons why certain modes of dress have become norms, and that's meaningful too. But I think what people might not realize is that religious Jewish women take pride in their appearance and love shopping and getting dressed just like anyone else! Sometimes, individuality can get a bit lost when you live in a tight community. But thankfully, with our collection we see so many women taking basics and truly making it their own. Judaism is very much about using your own voice and self expression to make the world a better place. And we see and are inspired to share how expression through clothing can be very much a part of that, even if it's just by the fact that it makes you feel more alive and beautiful — and thereby more empowered to change the world.

 Photo via  Instagram

Photo via Instagram

HM: What do you have to say to the people that view the way you dress as a “limitation?”

MH: Modest guidelines are inherently a limitation, but we wouldn't adhere to it if we didn't feel that it opened up a whole new time of freedom and power. In many ways, dressing modestly is our form of rebellion against a society that almost "insists" a woman's beauty and womanhood is about how much skin she shows. No, that doesn't mean we think the whole world needs to be modest. It's just how we personally choose and relate to it. Our society is so scared of limitations, but that's a very fearful approach. A lot of limitations are a "no" to say "yes" to something greater. For us, dressing modestly is a commitment that is meaningful to us for a multitude of reasons. So on days that it's hard, we just remind ourselves of that. Is it a challenge? It can be, practically. But that's why we started MIMU MAXI. And now we're just busy showing that whatever limitation that is inherent in modest dressing is simply a challenge worth embracing everyday. And that it can be beautiful, and fun, and just as fashionable as everyone else

HM: What is your overall message with MIMU MAXI?

MN: On the deepest level, our message with MIMU MAXI isn't even about clothes. It's about people. About women, connecting [with] and understanding each other, opening each other’s minds and embracing each other with authenticity and compassion. That is our social media vibe, and the energy of our brand — because it's really who we are. The clothes have become just the medium, a lucky byproduct, of a larger mission to build a positive, embracing community of women.

 Photo via  Instagram

Photo via Instagram