Sarah Lefton began her career as head of the hip micro clothing line Jewish Fashion Conspiracy "as a joke, really." Her day job as the marketing director of a summer camp in Yosemite National Park provided the inspiration. She made up a few T shirts bearing the slogan YO SEMITE for her own amusement, and, she says, "I kept getting stopped in the street." Within two days she had taken orders for 36 shirts, and a new career was born.
Lefton, 30, had unwittingly tapped into two burgeoning trends. Micro fashion lines, like Lefton's, are sprouting up all over as more and more young designers turn to the Web to showcase their wares while they wait to break into the big stores. They need only a website and the ability to design (or silk-screen). "My 'store' is literally under my desk," says Lefton, who is just starting to approach shops about carrying her goods.
She has also contributed to a fashion trend: conversation-provoking T shirts, hats and even underwear emblazoned with expressions of secular Jewish pride. At jewishfashion conspiracy.com you can find Lefton's pro-Semitic shirts. Jewlo.com showcases Julia Lowenstein's Hebraic spin on J. Lo, and at jewishjeans.com there are no jeans yet, but there are 21 styles of T shirts with slogans like NICE JEWISH GIRL. The new designers join the popular-clothing company Jewcy in celebrating "kosher-style fabulosity."
Why this vogue now? "Younger Jews are accepting their Jewish identity and looking for ways to 'represent,'" says Jew.Lo's Lowenstein, 27. "With the alarming rise in anti-Semitism on college campuses, as well as in the national consciousness, young Jews are feeling that now is an especially important time to be forthright and proud of who they are." She notes, "Though it's hard to implement mass change through fashion, the shirts are a positive step toward more Jewish pride among the younger generation."
The shirts are also catching on with fashionistas who have no ties to the Jewish community. "I think that people relate to the words whether or not they are Jewish," says Daniella Zax, 32, who along with her two sisters designs the Rabbi's Daughters line. Its slinky tanks and T's with Yiddish phrases like YENTA and OY VEY are now in more than 100 stores and have been spotted on such non-Jewish celebs as Madonna, Christina Aguilera and Kelly Osbourne. Indeed, one of its best-selling shirts proclaims the wearer to be a SHIKSA--a non-Jewish girl.