Churchgoing fashionistas push style on Gap-buying suburbanites

In God We Dress 

Churchgoing fashionistas push style on Gap-buying suburbanites

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"People love it, and it doesn't really matter if you are Christian or not Christian," he says. "It's if you have good taste ... it's very well done that way."

Well done or not, Flumiani wants nothing to do with that old image.

Even though it wasn't originally marketed as an overtly religious brand, Flumiani says the brand's name itself gave the company a label. "Jedidiah never, ever, ever started off as a Christian company when I was running it," Flumiani says. "We did clothes the way we liked to wear them."

But the religious connection didn't hurt. At the time, Christian-themed products were enjoying a sales revival. Jesus had been reborn as a pop icon with mainstream appeal. "Jesus Is My Homeboy" T-shirts grossed $10 million last year. The retailer Forever 21 stamped "John 3:16" on shopping bags. The Passion of the Christ grossed $125.2 million in its first five days of release. The savior even got a shout-out in Kanye West's hit song "Jesus Walks." Even born-again actor Stephen Baldwin has launched his own line of skate-styled DVDs.

In May 2004, Flumiani sold his business to his screen-printing partner, Kevin Murray, who began promoting Jedidiah as a Christian brand. The new slogan: "Rooted in Love." Its shirts now sport religious messages, and the brand was picked up by Christian skate shops and bookstores.

Though he has no intention of selling religious messages, Flumiani still wants the Standard to be guided by Christian tenets. He is convinced that models don't need to be famous, half-naked or heroin-chic to anchor a fashion show. "You wouldn't see a model on the runway in a G-string," he says. "It's not because we think that sex doesn't sell. That person on the runway is a human being and ... their dignity and their security and who they are is more important than selling a G-string."

Matching religious ideals with high fashion might seem paradoxical, but the Baldwins and Flumiani learned quickly that the combo appeals to a solid client base: the suburban mother. They believe that the average Johnson County mom wants high-fashion clothes that aren't marketed in ways that'll embarrass her at Amber's soccer practice. "At the end of the day," Matt Baldwin says, "the whole sex thing is just not how we see fashion."

Regardless of whether they agree with the store owners' moral principles, people still gawk at the Standard's prices. A paisley blouse by designer Cynthia Vincent, for instance, costs $304 — a price that eclipses the average car payment. But on a recent day inside the shop, bustling shoppers prove there's a demand. The place looks like a celebrity lounge: White walls and track lighting surround oversized black shelves that resemble grade school classroom cubbies. A flat-screen TV mounted at the top of a far wall is tuned to MTV. Rows of sequined purses and shoe boxes line high shelves. A corner "denim bar" overflows with jeans.

In one corner, 46-year-old Lisa Duvall is shopping for shoes with her 15-year-old daughter, Bridget. The girl's winter formal at Notre Dame de Sion is approaching. Bridget is clad in an outfit she bought at the Standard: gold Seychelles shoes, Chip and Pepper jeans, C & C shirt, Rebel Yell top, Juicy Couture jacket. At the register, mother and daughter buy another pair of brown Seychelles pumps for $80. "There is really nowhere else like it in Kansas City," Lisa Duvall says. "I think a lot of people think the kids that come in here are spoiled. Some kids come down here with daddy's credit card, but she doesn't. She pays half."

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