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#ModernMatriarchs: Gita Omri, Inclusive Fashion Designer & Entrepreneur

Gita Omri – fashion designer, entrepreneur, artist, and creative director of Omri Essentials and Gita Omri.

If home is where the heart is, you might say Gita Omri’s journey has brought her right where she needs to be. From her childhood in Israel to her emerging fashion career in New York City, Gita is more than just an artist or designer – she’s an entrepreneur out to innovate and create. She’s not afraid to shake things up and challenge the status quo, whether it’s debuting motocross-inspired lines in NYFW or daring to promote her brand with raw, authenticity on social media. As the creative director of Omri Essentials and Gita Omri, she is contributing to a contemporary and evolving definition of femininity that is both positive and empowering. Despite criticism and setbacks, she’s launched the first luxury women’s fashion collection to be based on the ‘inclusive sizing’ model once thought impossible in the fashion industry – and that’s exactly why we had to learn more.

Looking to the past and to your goals in the future, how would you describe this moment in your journey?

Considering how long it took me to get to this point I feel like an explorer who just touched land. I have been out at sea for the last few years trying to navigate myself to this point. I have been blown off course or stopped dead in the water, but finally, I have landed with the ground beneath my feet and am extremely anxious to explore and cultivate it.

You’re the creative director of two fashion lines: Omri Essentials and Gita Omri. Describe the differences, and how they work together in the modern, active woman’s closet.

In today’s world of disposable clothing, not only are we creating a tremendous amount of waste, but we have come to expect our clothes to have a poor fit and terrible quality. We agree to these standards because the price tag is so appealing. When I was conceptualizing my line I knew I wanted to tackle both the issue of waste as well as the quality of price issue.  I came to the conclusion that splitting up the collection in two would be best. Omri Essentials is a collection of closet staples. Your favorite fitted pants, a great button down or tee, a sexy pencil skirt etc. This collection is designed to help women build a foundation for their outfits. Omri Essentials will be available year round and is intended to support the seasonal collection of Gita Omri.

The Gita Omri collection is conceptually driven and will change season to season.

The idea here is to invest in a good “essential” foundation. Clothing you know are of good quality and will last you through a few seasons. This will give you more room to purchase fun unique pieces from the Gita Omri collection knowing your basics are covered!

What prompted the development of inclusive sizing, rather than just plus sizing?

I have been plus size my whole life. I have gone up and down a lot but overall I’ve been on the bigger side. The hardest part for me was not necessarily being ‘fat’ but rather being different. I have three beautiful thin sisters. When we would all go shopping together it was a nightmare for me. Not only could we not shop at the same stores but back then there was nothing available for me. They got to wear all the cool trends and shop in the cool stores and I got granny clothes from stores without a kids section! Not only did I have to deal with people commenting on my weight at all times but I could never be “in” with kids my age. Body image issues are much more complex than clothing but there was so much shaming involved, and I did feel ashamed!

I chose to create a line that is inclusively sized and not plus size, only because I believe the problem isn’t with not having enough options anymore, the problem is the segregation of the sizes. By placing larger sizes anywhere else in a store beside the women’s wear floor you are shaming your customer! By assuming “skinny” girls don’t want to shop with the bigger girls, you are saying they are more important. By creating a specific collection for the bigger sizes that has nowhere near as much care and design, you are saying to the plus size girls, “you are not worth the time and you shouldn’t be seen.”

I want to create a collection that is welcoming and leaves the shopper feeling positive and excited. I want my collection to maintain the integrity of the design throughout all the sizes using the most universally flattering silhouettes I can. It is more expensive to develop this kind of collection, which is why not many do it. An inclusively sized collection with great fit is possible!!

That doesn’t mean I can dress everyone.  There are a tremendous amount of different body types and shapes. All I can do is offer an inclusive range of sizes and hope I can eliminate the feeling of shame when shopping.

Describe your inspiration. Are there any unusual or lesser-known sources of inspiration that may be surprising?

I think deep down I’m a bit of an anarchist! A lot of my inspiration and drive come from what people tell me I cannot do or cannot be. As a kid, I was told a lot that being overweight will ruin my life. I won’t find a man, no one will want to hire me, I’ll be an outsider, etc. I think perhaps part of that has hindered my ability to lose the weight, but more than that it lit a fire in me to prove everyone wrong!  Now I am happily married to a gorgeous man, I am running my own business, and you are writing an article about me!

People have been telling me I am crazy having such a wide range of sizes. Telling me it’s too expensive, it’s too much work, “that’s just not how it’s done.” But why? Why can’t that be how it’s done? This is how I am going to do it.

Authenticity is something that is extremely important to me, in all areas of my life. This drives my business. Every idea or decision I make in my business, whether it be in the design of the clothing, in the marketing strategy or the social media content, is directed at me. I am the client. How can I solve the problems I myself face in my life?  How can I convince myself that I am worthy, that I am beautiful, that I am equal? It’s easy to go out and be “body positive” on social media and in the press but being “body positive” in real life, all the time is something completely different.

Omri in her studio.

Do you remember the moment you decided to choose a career in fashion, or what factors led to it? Were there any other career options you considered as well?

When I was sixteen I wanted to be the prime minister of Israel.  That was quite a change from my first dream of being a Broadway star!

After high school, I started studying international relations at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I wanted to do something with my life that would help create change and peace. That didn’t last very long once I had to start taking microeconomics. I left there with my tail between my legs to join the air force. Towards the end of my service, my evenings opened up so I decided to take some classes at a design college in Tel Aviv. I registered for Event Planning and Personal Styling. I ended up loving the styling class, but I found that I was more interested in creating my own garments for the styling projects than I was with the styling. I realized I wanted to design.

If you don’t feel body positive 100% of time, don’t worry, no one does. Be kind to yourself and start by appreciating your body, this in time will grow into love!

What have been some of the obstacles or challenges for you in becoming a fashion designer?

I have had many, some internal and some external. Getting started was a bit of a challenge. I had originally planned to stay in Israel and applied to attend Shenkar in Tel Aviv. I did not even make it to the interview round!! To be fair, I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew nothing about fashion design or making a portfolio, or how to sew etc. After that, I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue fashion anymore. Strangely enough, I found myself moving to New York a few months later for completely unrelated reasons, and I decided to give it another go. I did better research and found out what I needed, and submitted an application to FIT. Luckily I made it through to the interview!

Unfortunately, I did not get accepted because I had no sewing skills. Who knew you had to go to school before you go to school.

At the time I had a friend from Israel who was living in NY and studying at the Art Institute. She told me all about it. Two weeks later I was enrolled and taking classes.

Over the last 7 years, I have struggled a lot personally with the idea of being a fashion designer. Part of me felt like I was wasting my capabilities and knowledge on something so frivolous and vain. I just knew that I loved it.

Another part of me had experienced first hand how fashion and clothing can change someone’s life for the better. I truly believe that if you feel good about the way you look on the outside you are more likely to let your true authentic self-shine through!

This inspired me to pursue my passion but make sure that I was promoting that specific message of body positivity, authenticity, and using your clothing to enhance your inner beauty!

You grew up in Israel, but also spent your summers in the U.S. How did those experiences traveling as a child, and interacting in two different countries & cultures, influence you and your work later on?

I grew up in a small town filled with American Jews who moved to Israel. Many of my friends did the back and forth thing as well so it didn’t seem unusual. Now that I am older I can see what a privilege it was. During the school year, I learned math and grammar, geography and bible studies, and the summer was filled with trips to the Metropolitan Museum, the symphony, and a deep education of old Hollywood musicals and must-read books. Having such a wide education has definitely influenced my work. You can definitely see old Hollywood in my clothing. I design very feminine clothing.

Have you been able to introduce the inclusive sizing concept internationally or gauge its reception overseas?

I am doing my best through my social media. I seem to get great responses from all over the world. I know I am not the only designer doing this, but it is still quite small. Hopefully this time next year it becomes a no-brainer for emerging designers as well as established brands.

There’s a lot of debate in the industry right now about the lack of business training fashion students receive in school. 

Yes, they absolutely do not teach you enough about the business side in school! I think I had one or two “Intro to Fashion Industry” business classes, which were ‘read a boring textbook and pass the test’ kind of class.

Describe your business background and the experience of going from designer to entrepreneur. 

Business background = absolutely none. I have learned many expensive lessons getting to this point. Fortunately, I am married to a rock of a man who held me up and gave me the room to dust myself off and get back in the ring. I learned quickly that before there could be a collection, I would have to learn the business side. I started reading every book I could find that might be relevant to my business. I read about branding, marketing, the production process (another subject schools don’t dive deep into), copyright law, and more. I watched webinars and went to seminars and lectures. I asked and asked a million questions. I met with vendors at trade shows and in their offices and asked my questions. I transformed myself into an entrepreneur.

I did always know I wanted to do my own thing. My advice for designers considering going out on their own is to make sure this is the only path for you. It is hard! It’s amazing, don’t get me wrong. I love every minute of it, but it is non-stop. I work eight days a week! If you do decide this is what you want, make sure you have a great support system. And finally, running your own brand is not just conceptualizing and making beautiful clothes. I spend the majority of my time running the business rather than designing.

Other than going to school and beginning your career here, what made you decide to have NYC be your home base?

NYC became a safe haven for me during a difficult transition in my life. After I got out of the Air Force I was pretty lost. Not only was the transition to civilian life challenging, but the two most important relationships in my life at the time shattered. I tried working for my mom for a while but that was not a good fit. Luckily my grandfather saw how broken I was and invited me to New York to clear my head and figure out my next chapter. New York has been my home ever since.

At Renejade we encourage our community to embrace their ‘Matriarch Moment’ – this is a particular achievement or experience a woman is most proud of. What is your Matriarch Moment?

I am very proud of my time serving in the Israeli Airforce. Although serving in the military is a mandatory thing in Israel, there are ways of getting out of it. When I was 16 I was led to believe that I would not be able to handle the pressure and responsibilities of being a soldier and was convinced to apply for an exemption based on religious grounds. The day I got my release, I cried terribly. I felt that I was betraying my country. The day after my 18th birthday I submitted a request to have my release overturned. It was not as easy as I thought it was going to be. It took nine months of calling and writing letters and pleading. I finally got myself a meeting with the head of the recruitment bureau in Jerusalem. I made my case. When I finally received my enlistment schedule in the mail I cried again! This time from triumph, I had never fought so hard for something and succeeded before in my life. It was also the first time I realized I don’t need anyone to believe in me, I just need to believe in myself.

What are your some of your growth goals, now and in the future, both personally and professionally?

Because inclusive sizing is a relatively new concept it makes it very difficult to get carried by stores. Once they make an order I have no control over the collection. They can and probably will separate the collection by sizes and place them in separate departments. This defeats the purpose. My goal is to have a Gita Omri boutique that will serve as a welcoming, inclusive environment where we can focus on making sure our clients are leaving the store with the right fit and where there is no shame in needing any size at all!

Personally, I would like to lose some weight and get myself into a healthier routine when it comes to food. I have struggled with an eating disorder for a long time. Being body positive does not mean you can’t want to change or improve your body. To me, body positivity is not letting how you feel about your body affect your life in a negative way.

I would love to become a mom soon, and I would like to be the best, healthiest host I can be.

 

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