Elisheva Rishon wears her heart on her sleeve, and on her collection of casual shirts and sweatshirts. Messages of positivity adorn her clothes: Human.Kind.Be Both; Hashem Loves you; Gam Zu L’Tovah—in English or Hebrew letters. And there’s another one: Black, Jewish and Fabulous.
Eli7 Designs fashion is all about celebrating the components of Rishon’s identity; she’s an Orthodox Jewish, Black woman. And she is committed to combining those elements in a non-competitive, harmonious way. “My designs are about you feeling good about yourself,” Rishon said in a phone interview from her Los Angeles home. “I’m always thinking of the next best thing, how to express feelings, words or thoughts in the proper way.”
There are several collections in her brand that emphasize different aspects of her Jewish and Black identity, with English, Hebrew or Hebrew with English letters: The Woman Collection, The IssaVibe Collection, The Isha Collection, The Melanated Beauties Collection, The Jewishvibe Collection and The crossover Ethnic-Racial Celebration Collection.
The mix of languages and letters is a reflection on how willing people are to openly publicize their Jewish identity. “Right now in America, there is a spike in anti-Semitism and there are two responses: People want to hide or they want to be openly Jewish and proud,” she said. “I found that some people would rather wear Hebrew with English letters, some are afraid with so much anti-Semitism so they wear it in English and some want to be very clear and will wear in Hebrew. I think we have to stand our ground. When we hide, it doesn’t end well. We have to highlight the things we like about ourselves.”
Rishon has taken heat in unexpected ways. Some people in Orthodox social media circles have called her out for including sleeveless tops. Yet she is very clear on her website that all her clothes can be layered, and she gives tips on how to layer for the best looks. She moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, expecting a more open, non-judgmental culture. Yet she found doors closed, both in housing and in the design world when people saw that Elisheva Rishon was a Black woman. “It made me double down harder when it comes to my brand,” she said. “My way of coping with discrimination is to reverse it. Negativity I reverse to positivity. And although I didn’t find what I was looking for in LA, I am moving forward creatively. I need the vibe of LA and Santa Monica and I have met a lot of amazing people.”
One of Eli7’s first designs is still among her biggest sellers. The Isha shirt has a pop art look, with the three Hebrew letters creating a halo/hat effect over a female figure. Isha, woman in Hebrew, is described as “…strong. Beautiful. Mysterious. Spiritual. Intelligent. Limitless. Fearless. The Bringer of Life. The foundation of every civilization in the world.”
Another early design is a shirt with “Focus” imposed over a swirl of color. Rishon encourages you to slow down, and “think about what really matters to you in your life.” Her most recent designs are shirts with “Boker Tov” and “Laila Tov,” good morning and good night.
Eli7 Designs (https://eli7designs.com) is a one-woman operation, launched a year and a half ago, after a few years of designing and raising money for production. Rishon sends each order to a production facility to be made. She ensures reliability by initially sending samples eight or nine times to check for consistency. When she launched the brand, she posted photos of her clothes modeled by friends on social media to attract customers, and then modeled them herself. She was shocked at some negative fallout in the Orthodox world when she revealed her race. “I got caught up in the spirit of the brand,” she said sadly. “I had my head in the clouds and forgot what really happens. I did lose orders and followers but it’s getting better now.”
The pandemic has affected the entire fashion industry’s ability to produce clothing. Eli7 Designs has felt the impact. Some production facilities have closed and the ones that remain are producing fewer garments due to limitations on how many people can be in a room at one time, and requirements for sanitizing. “Every part of the process has slowed down,” said Rishon. “We are only working with two manufacturers now and usually it’s 10 to 12. Shipping is a problem. Certain sizes and colors are not available. We make clear to them (customers) that there may be delays, depending on the product, but thankfully people are understanding.”
Plans for a line of summer dresses and midi skirts had to be cancelled, but may happen next year. Rishon said she is working on something “very interesting” now with a friend that should be up and running soon. With sayings like “Gam Zu L’Tovah,” roughly translated as ‘This too is for the best,’ and ‘Stronger than yesterday,’ expect Eli7 Designs to survive the pandemic era and move forward in a big way.
By Bracha Schwartz