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The Future of Fashion Is Jewish

A new wave of Jewish designers has risen to the challenge of making more inclusive and sustainable clothes

Annabelle Azade
November 12, 2021
Shein AUNG
‘Fashion is a mirror for society and we are seeing a combination both of digital and tangible—digital designs with digital enhancements and tangibles that a person can actually wear.’Shein AUNG
Shein AUNG
‘Fashion is a mirror for society and we are seeing a combination both of digital and tangible—digital designs with digital enhancements and tangibles that a person can actually wear.’Shein AUNG

This past weekend, Kornit Fashion Week kicked off in Los Angeles, two years after its first edition in Tel Aviv. The event, which took place from Nov. 2 to Nov. 5, was the first stop on a worldwide tour of 10 cities. The entire enterprise was funded by the Israeli printer company Kornit, which was promoting its newest 3D printers for fashion designers while advocating for “more diversity in the fashion industry.” With more than 20 designers of everything from couture to ready-to-wear and accessories, the event showcased both established and under-the-radar fashion wizards, many of whom had utilized Kornit’s printing technology.

The show took place amid broad shifts in the fashion industry, namely a greater focus on inclusivity and responsibility. Jewish designers from around the globe, like the ones featured at Kornit, have become an instrumental part of this effort, leading the call for a more engaged and responsible fashion industry.

Recently, inclusivity has become a significant priority for fashion runways and ad campaigns. Mainstream labels have realized that consumers want to see more than just one body type. From the cancellation of the Victoria’s Secret Angels show to Old Navy’s plus size and all-gender billboards last September, America’s biggest names are slowly embracing what consumers have been seeking for years: authentic diversity.

Some of these changes come in response to several reports that made a big splash in the community. Last April, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) published an alarming survey about the underrepresentation of minorities, indicating that 26% of fashion employees of color (including 40% of Black respondents) believed that their race or ethnicity has had a negative impact on receiving raises and promotions. The CFDA report also highlighted that designers of color, especially women, faced more challenges with sales, as did the store employees who worked for them.

Understandably, many of these designers still have reservations about the longevity of these industry measures:

“You want to understand the reason why [you’re being called on now]—is it because they identify with the work, or because they feel a need to fulfill a quota?” asked one independent designer. “On one hand, it’s amazing because there are so many talented designers of color who deserve recognition … and are finally being seen because these gatekeepers are forced to address their presence. It’s unfortunate knowing that it’s not always real.”

It is within the context of an evolving industry that the renowned Israeli producer Motti Reif founded Kornit Fashion Week in an effort to be part of the change. Reif, a longtime celebrity fashion expert in Israel, is also the co-producer of Tel Aviv Fashion Week and a Tel Aviv council member. Recently appointed as chairman of the Advancement of Women for Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, he focuses on a wide variety of fashion and communities, from modest to international designers, featuring Emmanuel Ungaro and the fashion-forward New Yorker Asher Levine. Given his global vision, Los Angeles came to him as the perfect location for the show, as an “exciting megalopolis bringing people from different cultures together.”

Models showcase some of Asher Levine's designs
Models showcase some of Asher Levine’s designsPhotos: Philip Lew; Shein AUNG

Reif was also committed to inclusive representation in the show itself. “The fashion industry has [had] one type of model for the last four decades … usually tall, very thin, usually blond,” he explained. For his show, he looked for a variety of people, with varying heights, ages, builds, skin colors, and ages. He hired all the models locally (rare, given that most fashion weeks involve international talent flying in) in an effort to minimize the carbon footprint of their travel.

Respecting the environment was another key principle of Kornit Fashion Week. Currently, the fashion industry is responsible for about 8%-10% of global carbon emissions. Over the past few years, many institutions have launched awareness campaigns about sustainable style, from the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to the Greenpeace “Detox My Fashion” campaign. Last year, Kornit published an Impact Report showing the company’s own commitment to the U.N.’s sustainability guidelines and work to protect the environment.

Accordingly, the fashion week was full of eco-responsible designers. In order to keep the event’s carbon footprint low, all designers had the opportunity to create designs with the company’s special American-Israeli 3D printers. “Kornit is a textile digital printing machine that uses zero water,” explained Reif.

Israel footwear designer Naot, which launched an eco-friendly capsule collection, used that technology to craft sandals made from vegan leather, focusing on manufacturing its shoes ethically with sustainable sources. The avant-garde label Threeasfour, also part of the Kornit lineup, created a whole zero-waste capsule collection called Kundalini using the printers. The result was a very high fashion, futuristic-looking palette of colors.

“Kundalini is a tech-fashion collaboration with Kornit Digital that explores the latent energies, colors, and geometries of the seven chakras. Manifested through the chakras’ function as receivers of universal energy, this collection is a visual expression of the sublime unity that exists between body, nature, and spirit,” said the brand’s creative director.

Perhaps the most expansive vision came on the last day of Kornit Fashion Week during Asher Levine’s show. The show was diverse on every level, using innovative technologies and materials to create pattern-printed clothes inspired by the fresh-cut prisma reflections during the printing process.

“I want to use the collection to basically reveal what 21st-century fashion is. This is what I have been doing since 2009. Fashion is a mirror for society and we are seeing a combination both of digital and tangible—digital designs with digital enhancements and tangibles that a person can actually wear,” said Levine. His vision has already caught the eye of A-listers like Lil Nas X, Lady Gaga, Doja Cat, and other stars who have commissioned his bespoke, high-tech designs for their performances.

Levine’s new collection at Kornit unveiled Terrelli Purses, a line of highly modern conversation pieces. “I have incorporated technologies and illuminations in the bags for unique patented designs, encompassing 3D-printed sculptural elements.” Inspired by his strong 3D-printed sleeve pieces, Levine has also launched a line of digital fashion pieces that online users could “wear” to pose on social media, embracing the gamification and digitization of fashion to promote his own designs.

Levine and the rest of the Kornit lineup are not the first Jewish designers to use 3D printing in their work. Over the years, Jewish designers have displayed excellence in the technology, starting with Tel Aviv-based Danit Peleg, who pioneered the use of 3D printers in fashion. Always on the forefront of fashion tech, Peleg launched an NFT version of 3D-printed patterns this year. She is also the only fashion tech designer to offer online workshops teaching a broad audience how to design and print clothes.

Also based in Israel, the 3D-printed designer and shoemaker Ganit Goldstein was recently named one of the “best experimental designers of 2021.” Her futuristic designs have been presented at exhibitions and museums across the globe, earning her a prestigious grant in 2020 to redesign the manufacturing process of 3D textiles alongside a group of European scientists and researchers.

Jewish American designers are also making use of this technology. HILOS, a Portland-based circular footwear startup that developed a radically new way to make shoes by blending 3D printing with classic craftsmanship, just launched their first collaborative collection, and this month is releasing a limited collection of their newest style.

“We believe the way we make things matters. If you are going to eliminate waste and overproduction in the industry, that starts with new ways to design and manufacture. 3D printing allows us to make on-demand, only after a customer buys, offering a far more comfortable and durable product that is designed for disassembly and complete recyclability,” said co-founder Elias Stahl. With a digital supply chain and 3D patents for new forms of shoemaking, the brand is committed to eliminating overproduction while ensuring everything has an end-of-life plan.

With so many talents in the Jewish community, many people of the new generation were inspired by the tailoring and fashion of their parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents.

Asher Levine
Asher LevineShein AUNG

In some ways, fashion is coming full circle, going back to old-style tailoring in its commitment to sustainability. The on-demand, one-of-a-kind, bespoke old pieces from our grandparents’ generation might be, after all, what conscious consumers are looking for nowadays.

In fact, many modern tailoring companies draw from the traditions of Jewish ancestral tailoring. The Tailory NYC, a clothing company that merges modern design with traditional tailoring practices, is one such business, having thrived on old-school, custom-tailored bespoke designs for nine years. Their unique clothing has caught the attention of many celebrities, including Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams.

“We love offering a meaningful wardrobe with inspired unique pieces for unique clients,” said Silke Weil, the company’s general manager. Impulsive shoppers are not their strong suit. Instead, they cater to customers “looking for timeless pieces that can be worn for years ahead that are versatile and can be worn for all occasions, just like our grandpa’s generation.”

The previous generation not only inspired the practices showcased by many modern Jewish designers, but they also continue participating in the ever-evolving fashion scene. On the third night of Kornit Fashion Week, Halston’s muse Pat Cleveland, now 71, walked on the runway for the designer Julia Clancey, who has been making sustainable high fashion kaftan and lounge wear “inspired by Studio54 and Old Hollywood” for decades. Other Jewish celebrities joined the catwalk, including 55-year-old House actress Lisa Edelstein as well as Jean-Paul Gaultier’s plus-size muse Stella Ellis.

It was a great night for Jewish fashion, and a great sign for its promising future.

Annabelle Azadé is a journalist based in Los Angeles. She has reported from Bangkok, New York, Tel Aviv, London, and Paris.