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Sunday, October 24, 2021
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Leah Ash had a background in finance, not fashion, when she started Mia Mod, a women’s and girls’ clothing brand that has become a top seller in the modest fashion world. “I had sensory issues, so I always tried to find clothing that felt good and looked good,” she said in a phone interview from her home in California.

From that perspective she created her signature MM skirt, a fit-and-flare style that can be dressed up or down. Designed without a waistband, the upper section clings to the body for a supremely comfortable yet tailored look, before gently flaring out. The fabric is easy to keep clean. “In 2015 when I started, sustainability wasn’t a known trend,” she said, “But people come up to me and tell me the MM skirt they bought then is still in perfect condition today.”

Sales of the MM skirt took off on Instagram. Customers started asking for more styles, lengths and colors. In response, Mia Mod—named after Ash’s daughter Mia—has fit and flare, pleated, pencil, midi straight, Pleather and athleisure skirts, all available in different seasonal textures.

This season, Ash is adding sets—a new line of tops to pair with skirts. Mia Mod has just introduced the Purple line for larger sizes. Mia Mod skirts are sized to stretch so they can fit several different body shapes, but the length will vary according to the figure. The Purple line is more forgiving in the waist. Although more fabric is involved, the price is the same. “The gratitude is worth its weight in gold,” Ash said.

She’s launching a summer children’s line, similar to the adult one, just in time for camp. The skirts don’t have waistbands, like the adult version, and they are sized to cover knees. “They’re heavenly for finicky kids with sensory issues, in fun colors,” she said.

While the black skirt will always be a wardrobe must, Mia Mod is bursting with colors this season in the regular and Purple collections. Ash said she keeps her finger on the pulse of fashion trends. Design in the fashion world is always a season ahead, and she was pretty sure during winter that we’d be emerging from the worst of the pandemic by summer. She thought women would want bright, cheerful clothing, to put the dark days behind them. “It was a leap of faith.”

As the weather heats up, Ash is seeing her bet pay off. Although based in California, she said about 80% of sales are from the East Coast. So far, women are going for blues—light to navy, green, and light color tennis-style pleated skirts. Ash sells online (www.miamod.com), and in brick-and-mortar locations throughout the U.S. and internationally. Carly’z Craze in Teaneck has a large selection. Ash credits owner Alene Brodsky Bloom with encouraging her to develop the Purple line. Several selections are also available at The Pink Orchid in Passaic.

Ash’s pivot into fashion came as her life took a new path. A native of Australia, she moved to Los Angeles to marry but after a divorce had several challenging years as a single mom. She became a bookkeeper, working as many hours as possible, and rose through the ranks to become the CFO. She remarried, but realized her growing, blended family of five boys and one girl was not compatible with a demanding corporate position.

Ash thought having her own business would be a better fit and began selling children’s clothes as a side hustle. She got to know factories in China, so she had some experience when she started her adult line. Ash found a skirt she loved but wanted to change to make it more modest. She sought out a factory deep in rural China whose owners understood her idea and made the first MM skirt. With her corporate finance background, Ash had good control of the numbers and was able to achieve her vision in six to seven months. She spent a year trying to resign from her corporate job to focus on her new business. The corporation ultimately dissolved, saving Ash, and the people who depended on her, the trauma of leaving.

Mia Mod is a big company now, with a warehouse and employees in China. Ash made it through COVID with only a brief interruption when factories closed, turning temporarily to selling PPE (personal protective equipment) through her connections in China. She runs her entire wholesale division herself, overseeing 40-50 stores that are ordering thousands of pieces of merchandise every month.

Ash loves everything about the business—her customers, employees and even her competition. When she started Mia Mod, she was virtually alone as a seller of modest skirts. Now modest fashion is a distinct fashion category with many competitors, but that makes her happy. “It’s beautiful to see,” she said.

What gives her the most satisfaction is when customers tell her that Mia Mod skirts make them look great and they are so happy. And Ash relishes being a role model for her sons and daughter, showing them that with hard work and perseverance you can do what you love and be successful. She also appreciates her financial independence; she won’t forget the four years she spent as a single mother struggling to make ends meet.

Her next step is to expand the children’s line with unisex options, and add more tops and sets. Ash’s husband wants a Mia Mod men’s line. “He says he needs pants that are comfortable,” Will it happen? “I’d love to,” she laughed. “One day.”

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