Rise of evangelicals changes Brazilian fashion

By Jenny Barchfield

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Sao Paulo-based label Joyaly makes clothes aimed at moderate evangelicals, who generally cover shoulders and knees and shun women's pants altogether.

Launched in 1990, the label is among the oldest and priciest of the evangelical labels, its garments widely considered the creme de la creme of the sector. Its best-selling below-the-knee denim skirts, the staple piece in most evangelical women's closets, retail for $60 to $75, while the dresses run for about $75 to $100. The label doesn't make anything transparent, nor does it make pants.

Commercial director Alison Flores said the brand was born of his mother's constant struggle to find clothes that met the family church's modesty guidelines.

"Because she has a real entrepreneurial spirit, she decided to regard this problem as a business opportunity," he said. "She started making things for the ladies at church and then through word of mouth, the ladies from other churches and so on. People would come from all over to the really out-of-the-way neighborhood we lived in then.

"There was so much pent-up demand because until then, practically no one was attending to this public," Flores said.

A decade later, the family-run company set up shop in Sao Paulo's Bras garment district as the sole evangelical label.

"It really shocked people. They'd walk by, do a double-take and say 'What's that all about?'" he said. Now Bras is chock-a-block with evangelical brands.

One such newcomer is Kauly, a 10-year-old family-run label that was born again five years ago.

"We sort of stumbled into it by accident after we made a few more sober, conservative pieces," said director Fabricio Pais, a Catholic. "They sold so well we said, 'Hold on, this is interesting.' Six month later, we decided to radically change our product to cater to evangelical consumers."

Since then, the label has seen its profits climb by around 30 percent annually, said Pais.

The association representing Brazil's textile sector, ABIT, doesn't keep statistics on growth in niche sectors, but one of the group's recent publications emphasized that evangelical fashion was "in real expansion."

The tables have turned so completely that now evangelical specialty clothing lines attract scads of nonbelievers. Batista, the manager of M&A Fashion in Itaborai, estimates that about 40 percent of the store's clients are not evangelicals.

"It's so hard in regular stores to find clothes that aren't too short or don't show a lot of cleavage that women who aren't comfortable with showing a lot of skin for whatever reason shop here too," he said.

Customer Ana Paula Fernandes agrees. As a nonpracticing Catholic, Fernandes converted to an evangelical church two years ago. Dressed in cutoff shorts and a white tank top with spaghetti straps permitted by her congregation for day-to-day wear, Fernandes said it took her a while to get used to the modest garments required for services.

"Once when I first joined, I went to church in pants, and the pastor called me out on it," said the 25-year-old manicurist and mother of a 7-year-old daughter. "It seemed strange at first, but now I see how what you wear affects other people, not to mention your own sense of self-worth."

Now, she says she wears only modest, loose-fitting dresses to church.

"I feel dignified," she said.

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