Urban class

Efrat Zeitan's classy, flowing designs complement a woman's body.

blue dress 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
blue dress 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
First, always give the customer the best product you can possibly make, and second, the simplest design is the best one I know I pay three times as much not to have things made in Gaza or Egypt, but it's important to me to help the local economy as much as possible and give people jobs here For Efrat Zeitan, true fashion is not about what looks good on Twiggy as she waltzes down a chic runway in five-inch stilettos with extraterrestrial hair and makeup. Neither is it about haute couture and creating unusual clothing that looks extra cool on the hanger but could only be worn by supermodels or celebrities. "I make things that complement a woman's body," she says of her label, Efrata. "I'm not interested in making things with super-cool concepts that make you look like a clown or emphasize your flaws." In her new shop on Rehov Ibn Gvirol in North Tel Aviv, sleeveless cotton dresses in sky blue, olive green and chocolate brown hang in tidy rows. An occasional floral pattern or striped design stands out, but most of the items come in a single color and have a classic look that lends itself to versatile mixing and matching. Like every Efrata collection, this spring's designs focus on classic simplicity and comfort. Cotton and knit tunics, dresses, skirts, trousers and summer tops come largely in bright solids with rounded pockets that hug the hips and complement the figure. The soft material hangs loosely at the neck and hugs the waistline. It's a great place to pick up wardrobe basics that can be accessorized with wild scarves and outlandish shoes. Zeitan's philosophy of design is straightforward. Her goal is to make classic items that are not too expensive and suit the local weather and style. "I'm aiming for an urban classic look with my clothing," says the young designer as we tour the upper floor of her newly-expanded shop. "I don't make the fancy clothing you see in New York and London, and I'm not into the mass productions that Castro and Fox make." Yet despite opening her own shop and then expanding it last year, the path to success for the Efrata label has been long, careful and slow. "I always liked fashion. I used to dress all of my friends and make clothes for my dolls," she explains, smiling at the fact that everything looks cute small. The real challenge is to make it look good in larger sizes too. After her obligatory army service, Zeitan traveled to London and then India. She ran out of money but did not want to stop traveling, so she and a friend decided to head to Japan, where they planned to earn more cash by selling accessories for an Israeli stall. There, she met her future husband, Dan, and decided to stay. She studied fashion design in Japan for a year. "It sounds innocent, but in Japan I learned two things that form the basis of my work to this day. First, always give the customer the best product you can possibly make, and second, the simplest design is the best one. In Japan, they have a way of life that values simplicity, beauty and elegance. I took that sensitivity for aesthetics and applied it to clothing." Upon her return, she spent three years at Miriam Fashion College to learn how to transform an idea into a piece of clothing. "I knew I didn't want to work for someone else, and I wanted to go to a school that would teach me the technical aspects of making clothes for the Israeli market," she explains. AFTER GRADUATION, she started selling her first designs, largely beach and casual wear, to a few stores. Around the same time, Zeitan had the opportunity to be among the first fashion designers to set up a rack in the popular weekend designer market in Dizengoff Center in the spring of 2002. "Selling my designs there for six years before opening a store of my own was really helpful, because I got to see how the clothes look on and I had close contact with my clients. After a while, I understood what works and what doesn't." It also gave her the opportunity to meet people and gain exposure for her label. In 2007, she opened her own store, and a year later, after great success, she doubled the size by renting the space next door and renovating. "My goal is to invent new ways of making the body look the best it can by using the best fabrics and materials I can find," she says. "My clothes are nice to the touch. They're soft and comfortable enough to sleep in and you don't have to starve yourself for two days to fit into them." Every new design is tested on at least six or seven women who have different body shapes to maximize as many different figures as possible. "You can never make something that will look good on 100 percent of the women, but I try to make it work for most women. Every woman has her flaw, and my goal is to make clothes that make you look even better." Although the production costs are much higher, Zeitan also insists on buying her fabric here and having everything made in Tel Aviv. "I know I pay three times as much not to have things made in Gaza or Egypt, but it's important to me to help the local economy as much as possible and give people jobs here." Aside from stylish comfort that complements your figure, the other attractive part of Efrata's clothes is their price, which range from about NIS 250 to NIS 450 per item. "I don't have huge sales at the end of the season that cuts my prices in half because they are low to start with," she says. "I consider what I would pay for an item when I decide on a price, and one of the reasons why people keep coming back is because my clothes are not exorbitantly expensive." The biggest test for any designer is whether or not they can sustain themselves over time with their clothing. Repeat customers are a necessity in such a small market, and Zeitan says her biggest compliment is when clients return with their friends, sisters and mothers. "I don't advertise and I'm not in an area that's full of trendy clothing stores," she says. "All of my clients find me through word of mouth, and I have customers who have been buying clothes for many years and keep coming back." Eventually, Zeitan would like to branch out and sell her clothes abroad, but she is not willing to compromise on quality or style. "It's tempting to let buyers put my clothes in tons of stores or take my clothes to other countries and other markets, but for now, I'm taking it slowly and carefully. I don't want to flood the market with too many models and I don't want to expand too quickly," she says emphatically. "These things take time." Despite her continued success, Zeitan says the bottom line is simple: Tel Aviv is a small market. "If you get it right, people know it. If you don't, they also know. The secret for any good business is to be honest with your customers and make them feel good in what they're wearing and what they're buying." www.efrata.co.il