Have you ever felt like you’ve known someone for a long time but never really knew what they were passionate about and who they really were? The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” is true, and what someone portrays is not necessarily the totality of who they are on the inside. I’m always amazed at how much you can learn just by sitting down and talking to another person for 30 minutes.
I recently sat down with the friendly, kind, and fashionable Alisa Mendlowitz, one of the owners of Brenda’s clothing store at 4518 18th Ave, Brooklyn. Before I met her, she seemed so confident and composed, and after meeting her, she remained to me confident, composed, and totally approachable. Her strong sense of self and love for what she does comes through. So here’s the conversation between two women, from different backgrounds and age groups, sharing in the same passion for fashion!
Michal Goldfein: What inspired you to start your business?
Alisa Mendlowitz: Well, I’m lucky because the business has been in my family for four generations. It started with my grandmother, then my mother Brenda, and then me, with my sisters and my brother, and now my daughter Bracha works there as well.
MG: Do you design your clothes?
AM: We design some of our own clothes. We have a company that manufactures clothes for us. We also have clothing lines that we bring into the store.
MG: How do you decide what designers and fashion lines to bring into your store?
AM: Part of the process is definitely customer-driven, to see what products our clients are looking for. On the other hand, the companies themselves direct us as well, and give us ideas of what to carry.
MG: Do you have to travel to shows?
AM: No, thankfully, companies come to shows 4–6 times a year in Manhattan and I travel to those shows.
MG: I gain my personal inspiration from magazines and people on the street. Where would you say you gain your inspiration from?
AM: Because I’m looking for modest dresses, it’s a little more difficult. Not everything you see in a magazine can work for the modest-minded dresser. Thankfully, there’s a big trend of Jewish up-and-coming companies which is great.
MG: How would you like to see modest companies change, or in what ways can they strive to address the community’s needs better?
AM: That’s a great question. I would love to see them produce clothing that is more interesting in terms of design.
MG: Definitely! Often times I’ll see some three-quarter-sleeve jersey dresses, which are great, but the silhouettes are pretty simple.
AM: Yes, it would be nice to see unique silhouettes that push the boundaries of fashion a bit more. Additionally, I’d love to see an improvement in quality of fabric as well. For me, fabric is key.
MG: Especially in the hot summer months! Are there any fabrics that wrinkle easily?
AM: I would say people usually avoid linen for that reason. But overall, companies are getting better about their fabric choice and there are many delicious fabric options out there.
MG: So who are your favorite designers?
AM: Personally, I love a classic silhouette with a twist. Some designers I love include Max Mara, Missoni, and Dorothee Schumacher.
MG: Do you carry any brands at a lower price point?
AM: Yes, there are some California companies that offer good quality merchandise at lower price points. Some companies that come to mind in general are English Factory, Byrd by Tzippy, and Yakira Bella.
MG: What exciting things are going on in your store right now?
AM: Firstly, we just opened up a second location in Jackson, New Jersey [Lakewood], and it’s a beautiful store. We are also undergoing a huge renovation in our Brooklyn store. You should stop in because we are having a sale of up to 70% off some of our merchandise.
MG: That is exciting! Can you describe a typical day in your store?
AM: Ha! I could write a book about that. For me, everything in the store is fast-paced and there is never a dull moment. I’m so thankful to Hashem that our customers love us and that we are able to help them put together a wardrobe. It’s nonstop, but at the end of the day, you’re grateful for your customers’ appreciation.
MG: I always wondered: when stocking your store, do you think in terms of age groups?
AM: In today’s day and age so much has changed. Nowadays older women dress younger and younger women dress older.
MG: That’s so true; there really isn’t any boundary of age anymore. I feel like that’s fine as long as it’s kept classy. How do you feel about it?
AM: It’s funny because I actually enjoy sharing some items with my daughters; I enjoy a good Hard Tail piece! My mindset is that people want to feel good and look good; why not let them embrace that? If you take care of your body and feel pride in yourself, why not express that to the world?
AM: You had asked me about competition…
MG: Yes, I know that there are so many stores cropping up these days, do you feel a sense of competition?
AM: Actually competition is a good thing, and I consider myself lucky that we have loyal customers. There’s a saying, “an educated consumer is your best customer.” So I want everyone to go everywhere and shop everywhere and then come to buy at Brenda’s!
MG: Love that! I’m curious: did you ever feel a pressure to go into the family business?
AM: No, I loved it from the very beginning. I definitely have it in my blood, and I love what I do. It’s so gratifying and I’ve made so many good friends along the way.
MG: As a mom, is it difficult to balance your family life with your passions and work?
AM: A full-time mom is very important and a full-time business woman is very important. I do my best. Luckily, I have a great family support system and my husband has very much been by my side.
MG: So what fashion trends are you excited about for the fall?
AM: Color and print, and a movement towards separates. I personally like to wear the same skirt with a different top a few days a week. I love the ability to mix and match. It will be interesting to see how the community takes to this trend of moving away from the dresses. I know a lot of women love the ease of a dress.
MG: I’m sure there will still be many dress options …
AM: Yes! Not to worry! In terms of seasons, my favorite season is the fall. I love a good cashmere sweater and a skirt. I love ponchos and boots and there are so many fabulous leather looks out there. There are going to be beautiful statement coats as well.
MG: I love coats, and how they instantly make the outfit!
AM: Yes, you can totally wear a coat over the simplest look and you’re good to go.
MG: Are your customers accepting of color and prints?
AM: Prints are personal. Some may pop the color or print in a shoe or an accessory. Then you’ll have your fashionista who will wear leopard with zebra with snakeskin shoes and look amazing. What’s great about print and color is that you can do it in small doses, like in a shell or cardigan. I definitely understand that some customers gravitate towards neutrals because they can get a lot of use out of them.
MG: Speaking of being practical, I’m a mom of four, and I’m always on the hunt for mom-friendly fashion, any suggestions?
AM: I would say dresses are great pieces to have and there are many washable fabrics out there. Jersey dresses can feel soft and there are pretty ones with draping, which is flattering. There are companies making shirtwaist dresses that are great for nursing moms as well.
MG: Yes, I love a dress that looks put-together and stylish, I’ve always wondered, though, why don’t most dresses and skirts have a lining?
AM: I know it’s frustrating when you have to worry about clothing being see-through. There are three reasons why many items don’t come with a lining. First, a lining would make the clothing dry-clean-only. Secondly, it’s more expensive for manufacturers to make clothing with a lining and that would raise the price point. And last but not least, many clothes drape better on the body without a lining.
MG: So interesting! I never knew that … I feel like we need to do a “slip test” before leaving the store; maybe we could make labels for clothes saying “This item has been certified as “non-see-through.”
AM: Ha! I think you might be on to something.
MG: I’ve got a serious question here: would you wear something you wore during the week on Shabbos?
AM: You’re getting personal here, and yes, I have double-dipped. I get dressed up for work and sometimes on Shabbos I just want to be relaxed and easy. I also think that it’s better to buy less and buy better. If something is high-quality and I know it has longevity I will get it, knowing I’ve got a classic timeless piece.
MG: OK, that makes a lot of sense. Many people have asked me what silhouettes are the most flattering for those who want to camouflage their midriff area.
AM: There are a few options. You can do a tunic top with a straight skirt under it. You can also do a duster or longer open cardigan over a dress/shell. There are some beautiful sweater-coat and blazer options for fall. There are also oversize tops that are asymmetric or have draping details that can be flattering.
MG: What about a belt? Can that work?
AM: Some women are hesitant about wearing a belt, but it can actually be slimming and draw the eye to a defined waist. I’d recommend a chain belt or some kind of loose belt. You can also do that belt with a long cardigan together over it.
MG: One last essential question: What does fashion mean to you?
AM: Fashion is a major part of my life. Apart from family, fashion is everything I am and in everything I do. I think everyone has to be happy with how they look and how they feel, and fashion can be a tool to achieve that, but happiness starts from within. Fashion has been good to me and I’m ever grateful for it.
Michal Goldfein is a fashion influencer and content creator on Instagram who posts daily modest fashion inspiration @TheFashionDetour. You can listen to her modest fashion podcast on Apple podcast and on Jtriberadio.com. Email your fashion questions to Michal at