Designer and entrepreneur Lisa Vogl is a fashion pioneer with her shop Verona, one of the first modest clothing fashion stores in the United States. Tapping into what is already a billion dollar market worldwide, Verona is not only making waves in Vogl’s home state of Florida, but all over the world. (And Vogl hopes to capitalize on that buzz by opening an online store in France.) Things Girls Do chatted with Vogl, a former fashion photographer who converted to Islam in 2011.
Things Girls Do: You have been a fashion photographer for years, what inspired you to make the shift into designing?
Lisa Vogl: I did start in fashion photography several years ago, and I was able to see the back end of how a company works, because you're working directly with other fashion companies. So I learned a lot about the industry. Then I got married and had a baby, and I realized that my career of traveling around and working with other companies wasn’t conducive for my life anymore. And I had always had a passion for designing and business. So I decided to launch the company that, for me, I was very passionate about. I thought it was a need that wasn’t being filled. Just as a Muslim hijabi myself, it was just difficult to dress according to my modesty standards while still feeling comfortable and fashionable.
TGD: Why did you decide to start Verona?
LV: There's already hijabi companies out there. There are plenty of them, and still are, but I felt the need had not been filled yet was casual everyday wear which was also affordable. If you found an everyday dress, it was extremely expensive. The other options were outfits for Eid and weddings, and we are not wearing those everyday. So we thought we'd come in and fill that gap.
TGD: Who are your inspirations for modest fashion designs?
LV: I try to not look at other modest fashion companies because we try not to get too similar. I might take what is current and trendy, and give it that modern twist. I don't have a particular inspiration, but I will see designs and give it my twist. Everything at Verona has been completely designed by myself, Aza Amouf, and Nadine Abu Jabara. So all of the dresses, all of the modest tops, we went through all of the steps, from choosing the colour, to the fit, to the sizing - everything has been designed by Verona.
TGD: Verona is one of the first stores of its kind in the United States, congratulations. What has the response been like?
LV: The response from the Muslim community has been overwhelmingly positive, because as I said, it's been so difficult to find modest clothing. And to be able to feel and touch and try things on in person - it's something everybody is really excited to have. As far as non-Muslims, we haven't had anything confrontational in front of us, but obviously we have seen lots of negativity on social media. However, we don't choose to focus on that; we just like to focus on being positive and moving forward as a company.
TGD: What do you think are the main challenges you'll face with bringing a modesty fashion line into the mainstream market (of not-so-modest wear)? And how do you plan deal with them?
LV: We are not necessarily trying to fit in the mainstream market. We are trying to be ourselves, and that's why we released [this clothing line]. We don't want to follow what everybody else is doing, saying sex sells. We want to empower women, to say you are empowered, beautiful, and perfect just the way you are, and you don't have to wear revealing clothes to feel perfect. Right now, we living in a society where a woman's body is objectified to sell objects. We are kind of rejecting that idea, and saying you can be gorgeous and modest all at the same time. So we are saying we don't have to fit in; we just want to be ourselves and offer that to our customers who want to stay modest.
TGD: Verona is a celebration of diversity in fashion. What would you say to non-Muslim women who like the style and would like to shop at your store?
LV: Modesty isn't exclusive to being Muslim. There are many other faiths that adhere to a modest dress. Or you may not attach yourself to a religious group, but you just want to be modest for yourself. We offer a wide variety of different items because even within the Muslim faith everybody has a different level of modesty and what they consider to be modest. So we offer a lot of different items - really anybody can shop at our store. We get a lot of customers who shop mainly for the cardigans or long tops, and typically they won't purchase the long sleeves or long dresses. But we try to make known that, hey, just because we choose to wear the hijab - We still have a lot of other items available for anyone else.
TGD: There's an opinion that hijabi women (women who wear hijab) are oppressed. What would you like to tell the people who think like that?
LV: The word oppression means to be forced into something, so that's the biggest thing we have to address. Are we forced to dress the way we are or is it our choice? Islam doesn't allow anything to be forced upon anybody. In the Quran it states there is no compulsion in religion. So a hundred percent, this is the choice for us to dress the way we want. We are also empowered, strong, and independent women, but the media will show us otherwise. We, the owners, are college educated; independent, strong women that make our living for ourselves. So it's the exact opposite of the stereotypes about us.
TGD: There was recently a modest fashion week in Istanbul. How would you like to see modest fashion be a part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week?
LV: I think it's coming up. I think it's close. I know there's a Muslim designer that has been featured on the Muslim fashion runway. You see major companies like DKNY and Dolce and Gabbana who recently came out with an abaya range. The established brands are taking note that is an untapped market. In fact, Forbes declared it as the next big untapped market. So I think we are going to see it more and more, whether it is in an advertisement or on the runway or in stores.
TGD: Do you see Verona on the runway soon?
LV: We will see. We will just keep moving forward.
TGD: Can you give us recommendations on which modest fashionista we should take our cues from?
LV: I have to of course give Yaz the Spaz my shout out because that's not only my good friend but she's got amazing style. Omaya Zein is really amazing, too. We also have a Verona model ourselves, Sarah Al Ramahi.
TGD: What's next for you and for Verona?
LV: This week or next week we are launching a Verona France. We have a UK division. We can easily ship throughout the EU. This will allow us to have customer service in French, which will be a benefit for our French customers. So that's our immediate next step and then we are gearing up to open a German Verona by the end of the year, and hopefully London or Paris for our second retail shop.