Style Junkie: Slow and steady

Fashion designer Alona Bar-Yona focuses on her collection by making a connection.

Fashion 311 (photo credit: Gadi Dagon)
Fashion 311
(photo credit: Gadi Dagon)
Alona Bar-Yona is not looking for quick success; she wants to feel the connection to her customers.
Though she was in the middle of explaining the inspiration for her new collection, Bar-Yona kept her eyes trained on the tall woman looking through the racks of clothing that line her Jaffa studio/store.
“Do you have this dress in a size 3?” asked the potential customer, holding up a light gray loosely knit sweater dress.
“Well, that’s a size 2, and you would probably want a size 4. I have a 3 that you can try, but it may be too small,” said Bar-Yona.
She resumed describing the quiet drama that characterizes her new collection, the details in the closures and the deep colors, but all the while she kept a bit of her attention on the dress and the shopper.
“I love this,” the customer said to her companion as she slipped the dress over her clothing.
“It’s a bit too small,” said Bar-Yona. “That dress is meant to be oversize, and it’s a little too tight on you.”
The woman seemed stunned for a moment. She clearly had intended to purchase the dress but was now receiving a conflicting message from the designer. After looking herself over a few more times in the full-length mirror, the woman took off the dress, picked up a store business card and left the shop.
Though she clearly could have added money to the till had she proceeded differently, Bar-Yona felt she had done a great service to her budding business during that somewhat tricky exchange. “The way the dress sat on her, it wasn’t the idea of the garment. Integrity is important to me. I’d rather not sell something than have someone leave my store with a piece that doesn’t suit her or fit properly,” she explained.
Bar-Yona seemed very pleased with the exchange. “I’m sure she’ll be back,” she said. “My business isn’t about fast food/fast wear, it’s about real communication. I come from a place of faith. I want to do something good, and you can’t fake that. Real style is about real opinions.”
At 35, the designer has a youthfulness and grace that are magnetic and disarming.
Six years ago, when Bar-Yona began marketing her elegant and intelligent designs, her clothing was picked up by the fabulous Alma and then by Banker on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. Then, three years ago, Bar-Yona opened a store in the flea market in Jaffa. Though she meant for the small shop to house her studio space, she soon discovered that every square meter was needed for retail purposes. She then found a location for her studio not far away on the very hip Ruhama Street.
Unlike many of her contemporaries, Bar- Yona has been in the process of scaling down her business model in recent months. Though the demand is certainly there, she has decided to take the focus off distribution in favor of deepening her connection with her clients.
“I’m working on depth, not width,” she explained. “For me as a creator, the constant expansion doesn’t work. In the last year, I decided to stay where I’m at and to sharpen and clarify what I’m doing.”
Also unlike many of her peers, Bar- Yona is adamant about maintaining a presence in her store. “I spend three nights a week plus Fridays in my store.
That’s the best part of the process for me – the bond with the customers. It was the main reason I decided to take a break from expanding. As my business grew, I got farther away from my customers.
Now I’ve freed myself up to go back to that connection.”
Her latest collection was drawn from many sparks of inspiration.
There are references to Japanese monks, union workers and a variety of uniforms. “I don’t create a collection as a story. It’s more like flickers in my DNA,” she said.
One particularly memorable piece is called the Tamar dress. It is a take on the shirt worn by Bar-Yona’s grandfather in an old photograph.
“In the photo, my grandfather is holding my mother as a child, whose name is Tamar. The picture was taken on Kibbutz Ha’ogen, where we are from. I believe the shirt was a kind of smock the parents had to wear when they visited the children’s house,” she explained.
Her interpretation of this old-fashioned garb, however, is nothing if not modern.
With a chic line of buttons on the right side, the off-white dress evokes a subtle elegance.
All Bar-Yona’s clothing is manufactured in Israel using Israeli fabrics. As such, the designer is able to keep her prices within a reasonable range. The Tamar dress, for example, costs NIS 499. In fact, nothing in Bar-Yona’s collection costs more than NIS 600, which is low considering the quality of her workmanship, from the fabric selection to the sewing.
Alona Bar-Yona’s studio/store is located at 16 Ruhama Street in Jaffa. Her shop is at 10 Yehuda Margoza Street on the corner of Rabbi Nahman Street in the flea market.