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Couple Specializes in 'Clothing Your Father Would Approve Of'

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now, for another take on fashion. For those of you appalled by skin-tight pants, plunging necklines and navel-baring tops, Eddie and Heather Gist may have something for you.

Their clothing label called Modest By Design is all about being modest and fashionable at the same time. Eddie and Heather Gist join us from member station KUER in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Thank you both for joining us.

Ms. HEATHER GIST (Co-owner, Modest By Design): Thank you. It's fun to be here.

Mr. EDDIE GIST (Co-owner, Modest By Design): Thank you.

MARTIN: When you say, you want to make modest fashionable - I mean the - one of the - what do you want to call it - slogans for your company as Clothing Your Father Would Approve Of. Now, you really think that's a way to get them knocking down the door?

Ms. GIST: Well, I think that it's just kind of a tongue and cheek kind of joke. I think that, you know, so many of us have this picture of a father being overbearing and wanting you to wear something that you wouldn't want to wear.

But these are - all of our fashions are, we hope, things that people would want to wear and that they'll feel beautiful and then not feel, you know, unfashionable, of course. So…

MARTIN: What spark the idea for the company?

Mr. GIST: The idea was is that, you know, we really wanted to create something that people want to wear that didn't feel like they didn't have an option. And if you look at society in general, it's more of a situation where the less you wear is looked upon is better. And it's not that way.

One of our thoughts where we really want to do something that we thought would really give back to the community and really have a big meaning, and for us, I thought because, you know, we really care about modesty. And so we figure we need to go that route because, I mean, I started sewing in the seventh grade.

MARTIN: Oh, really?

Mr. GIST: And for me, my dream was to have my own clothing line. And so growing up, I took all the sewing classes, did all the tech schools, you know? I even went to college to study fashion. So that's what I did. But for me, my idea of fashion wasn't modest when I first started out. It was really just a contemporary fashion what you see out there.

But as I grew and as I wound up finding - joining in the LDS Church, it really brought me to a sense of modesty and meaning of looking at my young girls that I had at the time, and also my wife. I mean, it was hard for them to find clothing.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you with this. I know you live in Utah and you are both, I assume, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as most people know as the Mormons. Is it really that hard to find modest clothing? I would assume that there is a ready market there?

Ms. GIST: You know, here in Utah, it's not as difficult. We actually lived in upstate New York when we had the idea to start the business. And there, we were very challenged in finding themes that, you know, met our hemline requirements or especially formal wear, gowns that have a sleeve and aren't, you know, revealing.

MARTIN: Are there guidelines for what Mormons can and cannot wear?

Ms. GIST: There are. We - where everything is to have a sleeves and then, of course, our hemlines need to be to the knee or just passed the knee. No cleavage-baring or back-baring, so everything has a pretty high neckline on it as well.

MARTIN: What about for men?

Mr. GIST: Men's is not really much. It's like, you know, you keep the shirt on and you don't wear the short shorts. And most of the time, you're pretty modest and…

Ms. GIST: Pretty modest in a way.

MARTIN: I saw on your Web site that a lot of your formal wear does bare the arms, and some religions that's not considered appropriate, especially for mixed company.

Ms. GIST: Exactly.

MARTIN: So I wonder do you customize to accommodate people whose requirements may be even more strict than yours?

Mr. GIST: Yes, we do. And we're excited because we've gotten a lot of requests from people to have long sleeve formal gowns, which, you know, a couple of years ago, that was really unheard of, whether it's, you know, elbow-length or long sleeve, that's what they're looking for. And so this year - next year -we're actually coming out with several long sleeve evening gowns, as well as prom gowns because that's been a big request.

MARTIN: Well, who do you think is your main customer? Do you think it's mainly people who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? Or do you find that there are people from other backgrounds who are also buying your clothing?

Ms. GIST: You know, the funny thing is when we started the business, we thought we would have this little small, LDS niche. And so we didn't expect the business to be able to grow as much as it has. We've actually found, with our customers outside of Utah that buy from our Web sites, that more of our customers are not LDS and are LDS, actually by a pretty big margin.

MARTIN: And is religion the main reason that people - or do they (unintelligible) I don't know, people would tell you why they want…

Mr. GIST: It's not.

Ms. GIST: Now, I think it is mostly religious background people that are looking for - because of their religion. But I think that a lot are also looking - we get those who are looking to cover figure flaws or to cover, you know - I mean, I had a girl that wanted a dress with sleeves because she wanted to cover her tattoo when she was wearing a bridesmaid's dress for her friend's wedding. So I think there are different reasons, but I think the majority are for religious reasons.

Mr. GIST: I was going to say, you know, in all the calls that I get when people call in to either ask questions or just give us feedback on, you know, our clothing, it doesn't come across as a religious standpoint, just this I'm looking for. I can't find it. My friends are having the same problems. And so that's what I've got to go offers that, you know, they're actually calling us with concerns. Can you maybe try and do something that will take care of this or take care of that, and that's what we try to do.

MARTIN: Do you find that you have a lot of Muslim customers?

Mr. GIST: Yes, we do actually. And that was one of the things that really surprised us early - probably a year or two into our business, we found that we were actually listed on several Muslim sites as, you know, places to shop.

MARTIN: And what about Orthodox, Jewish women?

Ms. GIST: Orthodox, Jewish as well. We do a lot of business and that's - it was funny because at first, we couldn't figure out why we were doing so much business in New York City area and the surrounding close areas. And then I finally talked to a customer there and I was talking - I was saying, we're having a big following it seems like there, and she says yes, yes, some of our friends that are Jewish have bought their different dresses from you. And I said, oh, I see.

MARTIN: And what are the (unintelligible) you need from them? Do you need longer sleeves? Then a cap sleeves…

Ms. GIST: Yes, usually the longer sleeves. Uh-huh. Usually, we have the cap sleeves on most of our prom dresses. But most of the Jewish people required them to be between the elbow and the wrist, so somewhere in there. It depends on your Rabbi.

MARTIN: Do you ever disagree about the design about what's cute?

Mr. GIST: Oh, yes.

Ms. GIST: Oh, yes, a lot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Who wins?

Ms. GIST: I do, of course.

Mr. GIST: She does.

Ms. GIST: No.

Mr. GIST: She does. Being a guy - I mean, unless I really feel strongly about it, she has a way. I mean, if I really feel strongly about it, then that's something that we really have to talk about.

MARTIN: Well, you know, it's interesting because, I think, a lot of people think that the reason that people are wearing skimpy or tight clothing is that men find it appealing. Do you think that's true, Eddie?

Mr. GIST: I think a lot of the interpretations that is that - and, you know, and depending on the guy, I guess, you might say. It really depends on, you know, is this someone he can take home to their mom dressed the way they are.

MARTIN: I'm not sure that everybody is trying to take somebody home to their mom, Eddie. Okay.

Ms. GIST: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIST: I mean, but - from my standpoint of view, that's one of the things when I was in the dating scene. You know, I mean, you go out and you see people and you meet people different places. One of the things I always looked at for myself was, you know, the way she dress. Can I take her home to my mom because I grew up in North Carolina, in the South? And, you know - and when we take -when I take a girl home, I mean, I want her to be comfortable in front my mom and not my mom uncomfortable in front of her.

MARTIN: Well, tell us what is - what's hot for the holiday season.

Ms. GIST: Lace actually is back, which is really, really fun. I'm excited because for years there, we didn't see any lace on anything. And we've got some really fun holiday dresses this year that has a lace, like black lace over top of a silver or over top of a red. So it has that contrast. It's really fun. That's one of my new favorite things.

Mr. GIST: And tea length has been another big thing. They all want the tea length dresses because they don't really want to wear something that might get, you know, stepped on or kind(ph) on the weather where there's snow or not…

Ms. GIST: (Unintelligible). Yeah.

Mr. GIST: …have to worry about the hem of the dress. So the tea length has been really big.

MARTIN: What's up with the lace? I'm seeing this lace everywhere. Do you all have a meeting someplace? You all fashion people get together and have a meeting somewhere when you all decide this?

Ms. GIST: You know, it's funny. I think - no, it's just funny. I think it just catches on. And, you know, one big designer will make one dress of lace and everyone goes, huh, that's kind of cute. Maybe we can try on some lace somewhere. And sooner or later, it seems like it's everywhere.

But - it's - you know, the fashion industry does run on trends and that's just one of the trends that seems like has grown in this year is the lace. It's even back a lot in wedding dresses, which you didn't see lace in wedding dresses for a while there. So…

MARTIN: Heather and Eddie Gist are the owners of Modest By Design. It's a clothing manufacturer that specializes in clothing for women and men who don't want to bare it all. They joined us from member station KUER in Salt Lake City.

Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. GIST: Thank you. It's been fun.

Mr. GIST: Thank you.

MARTIN: And finally, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. And amidst all the chopping and stuffing and mashing comes the opportunity to reflect on what we're grateful for. What will you be giving thanks for next Thursday? Is it family? Good health? Or have you ever had a unique Thanksgiving experience that you want to tell us about, something unforgettable on your book? To share your attitude of gratitude with us, go to our blog at npr.org/tellmemore. You can also call our comment line at 202-842-3522. That's 202-842-3522.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin. And this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.