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Founder Chanabana: “Modesty in a dress is important but it cannot be measured with a ruler”

By Prachi Singh


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Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Chana Rachel Weinberg’s love for fashion began at the age of 15 when she could not find clothes that fit her fuller body type. That’s when she got a sewing machine and started stitching clothes for herself. What started as a way to serve her own fashion needs has ended up into a full-fledged modest fashion label called Chanabana.

In a conversation with FashionUnited, Weinberg sheds light on how her love for fashion got converted into an online label – Chanabana and her motive behind launching a modest activewear line.

How and when did you start Chanabana Activewear dedicated to modest fashion?

Chana Rachel: I actually launched Chanabana as an answer to my own discovery for the need to have modest and fashionable activewear. This happened in 2014, when I returned to Israel for my final year of fashion school at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design. At the time, I was going through a period in life where I was becoming more religious. I suddenly found myself with nothing to wear for my fitness regime, especially running. I saw other modest runners wearing jean skirts and frumpy clothes but I was not willing to compromise.

This was when I came up with my first running dress: a sleek, long sleeve, knee length dress, made of Lycra, with white running stripes and black mesh along the sides. This dress was draped and designed to suit my figure and made me feel so amazing that I would wear it for all my runs along the beach. Later on I came up with a running skirt- with attached leggings, and a running set which includes a skirt and matching sports top. Since then I haven’t looked back and continue to expand the line.

What was the idea behind launching a modest activewear line of clothing?

CR: I wanted to launch a modest brand that would be just as colourful and fashionable as the other mainstream sportswear. Many other modest brands stick to dark and stubble colours, however I don’t see anything wrong with using bright colours, and on the contrary, believe that colours play a primary role in sportswear; upgrading the design and motivating us to get running. Chanabana is known for its colourful palette and extra lightweight material which is especially suitable for running, up to size XXXL.

Tell us more about yourself and Chanabana label. Its designs, collections, retail presence and so on.

I was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and moved to Israel with my family when I was a child. When I graduated from Shenkar, the auto response from friends and family was to open a bridal salon because according to them “if one wants to make money that’s what one gotta do”. However, I beat of my own drum and do only what I truly believe in.

Seeing how fast technology is advancing and watching world progress, I see active living as crucial, and if I can find a way to contribute to it I am grateful. So as a part of my effort, Chanabana was officially launched on May 11, 2015. The inspiration for this clothing line is Australian sportswear line, Lorna Jane. During my fashion school intersessions I would travel to Australia, which is where I was introduced to the brand. Lorna Jane incorporates stunning colour combinations and textiles, which always excited me and gave me motivation to go out on my daily morning runs.

My first collection- Spring/Summer 2016, is a take on an earlier swimsuit collection I designed in 2012 called Reflective Nature. This collection was inspired by my childhood memories feeding the ducks in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I was born. The collection was made during my second year at Shenkar and features hand painted oil paintings which were digitized and placed on Photoshop to fit the pattern.

In my SS16 collection, I modified the revealing swimsuits and transformed them into unique swimsuit dresses which borrowed its unique elements and were also suitable for the more conservative women who want to cover up. Borrowing elements of evening wear and made of swimsuit fabric, the dresses are practical for both evening wear and swimwear. The collection also features the running dress and the skirt-set.

Coming from a background of art, each of my collections always start with a painting. What inspires me the most are fish and nature. After delving into research, I take it one step further by painting my inspiration and getting to know it from a closer dimension. This is pure excitement for me.

Is the label only available online? How do you plan to expand Chanabana’s presence?

The label is currently available online at Chanabana.com and on Facebook. Brick and mortar is somewhere down the line.

Tell us about the production capacity and collections created under the company’s umbrella.

Currently I'm focusing on the running skirts and also working on a few other essentials - sports shirts, swimsuit dresses and skirts sets, etc. Once we perfect our basics, we can move onto more exciting prints and styles.

Tell us about Chanabana's product pricing vis-a-vis other modest fashion brands. What is its positioning among modest sports or modest fashion brands?

Most of the other modest fashion brands offer fancier genre- for eveningwear and events. Chanabana is different because it offers casual fashionable sportswear, suitable for going to the gym or just running errands. It’s a new breed.

Compared to the other sports brands Chanabana is on the higher price range; however, compared to the generic modesty brands, we are on the same level. As sports lovers, we spend so much time working out, so I feel, we should rather invest the same amount of money in a beautiful sports set than on one expensive dress that would be worn just once or twice.

In addition, most of the other sports brands stick to a dark palette of colours compared to Chanabana, which offers a wide selection of bright sporty colours. Most of the other sports brands use a heavy swimsuit fabric for all of their active wear, unlike Chanabana which specializes in a lightweight fabric perfect for running. Coming from a fashion standpoint, it’s important for me to produce fashion that’s not only modest and functional, but also fashionable.

What has been the consumer response and is it confined to only Muslim consumers?

I have been getting positive feedback from both religious and non-religious women; who just don't like men staring at their butts. Fuller women are also drawn to our line as we offer larger sizes in flattering styles. The line is not confined to Muslim consumers.

There is a vast difference between faith and fashion. Fashion is said to be consumerist but faith is in a way against consumerism. How does modest fashion deal with this issue?

Fashion and faith are two worlds that don't naturally come together. Faith is a way of life and fashion is a way of dressing. In religion it is a custom to dress in a manner that is 'modest'; to bring out the inner essence of the person without revealing clothing. I agree that modesty in dress is important for people of faith, however I do not think it can be measured with a ruler.

True modesty is reflected in the way we speak, behave and carry ourselves. We can be covered from head to toe and still give the wrong impression. In faith it is customary to believe that each person was placed on this planet to fulfill their own unique purpose, and I believe that by wearing modest sportswear and living a healthy lifestyle we have more energy to fulfill this purpose.

What do you think of the current state of modest fashion with a lot of brands and designers getting into this segment?

With modesty being listed as a top trend in Vogue in 2016, and the burkini controversy, there are many new modesty brands and bloggers. I would like to see a shift towards awareness to active living and wellbeing, especially in our fast paced and technological world. Chanabana will continue to provide attractive sportswear that will encourage today’s woman to maintain an active lifestyle when sitting at the computer is a temptation.

Where according to you is modest fashion headed with controversies surrounding the attire vis-à-vis western brands creating dedicated modest fashion collections?

I think, modest fashion will continue to evolve and eventually become a part of every renowned fashion label. The secret to modest fashion is that it needs to amuse you, and only once it goes off the stage you realize it is also 'modest'. This requires unique silhouettes, exciting prints and an air of creativity. I don’t see a problem with western brands creating dedicated modest fashion collections, and think they can only expand the innovation of the other modest fashion brands out there.

Pictures: Chanabana, Chana Rachel Weinberg

Chana Rachel Weinberg