After A Tragedy, The Frock Expands In Crown Heights

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon when I walked into The Frock’s pop-up shop. Set up in a corner space in Crown Heights, the light streaming through the windows, racks of clothes lined the walls.

By the time I had arrived, at around 2 p.m., the place was bustling; there were women pulling dresses off racks, women patiently lining up to pay; women heading toward the back to try on the clothes.

I bustled over to Chaya, one half of the sister duo behind The Frock, who was working the cash register. A woman in a hijab was paying for her dress. “It’s been like this all day. A lot of people from Manhattan came,” Chaya noted.

The sheer number of people at this pop-up is hardly surprising, considering the love fans have for this clothing brand filled with basics. The Frock, a clothing brand started by Orthodox sisters Simi and Chaya, has nearly 38 thousand followers on Instagram, and their brand of chic basics has been written about in some of the biggest fashion publications, including Vogue and Refinery29.

We’ve got news to share. We’ve had some (big) changes happening at The Frock over the past few months. Emotionally, we’ve been cast on a real-life roller coaster, set upon a terrain of loss and grief. We physically welcomed new life into our families, adding more light, love as well as time restrictions to our days. On the work front, new developments have simultnesobly been brewing. With the help of our amazing #teamFrock, these have slowly taken form in better ways than we could have imagined. And now, we couldn’t be more excited to share it with you. We’re moving. We’re growing. To bigger and better. Welcome to the newest addition of the family, #TheCornerShop. As much as we love the comforts & convenience of my dining room, Shabbat leftovers from the fridge, & a baby cribs upstairs for nap time, we’ve outgrown it. We’re squeezing out of our rims and creating our very own space to grow. We found the perfect little corner shop, with just enough light from both sides to make us feel as though we’re outside, just enough depth to give our office a sense of professionalism, & the little, yet significant details inside, that make us feel like we’re at home. While we’re welcoming the change with excitement, we’re also staying strong to our core principles, to the strong foundations that enable us to weather the storm. We’re still the same, core team that got us to where we are. We are still creating our signature styles that keep us true to ourselves. And you, the ones who have helped bring us to this point, well, we’re taking you with us. This past Friday, we signed the lease, the keys are now ours. And this Sunday, we’re inviting you to see it for yourself. Yet, it will just be the initial stages, the bare bones of our new home. We may even go a little crazy with you and get some pens out and sign the walls before we paint it! Before the final stages of the space and decor come to life, we’ll be hosting our first ever #PopUpShop in #TheCornerShop. So here we are. You’ve been with us since day one, and it’s only befitting that you’re included in this pivotal moment in seeing the vision we’ve had as sisters and young girls, come to life. Welcome to our new 🏠

A post shared by Chaya & Simi (@thefrocknyc) on

Earlier this year, The Frock sisters experienced an unexpected tragedy. Simi’s husband, Shua, fell ill and, just a few week later, on November 9, he passed away. While he was in the hospital, tens of thousands of Jews gathered together to pray for Shua’s health, with prayer groups, challah bakings, and commitments to doing acts of kindness — many of them feeling connected to the family, as loyal Instagram followers of the Frock brand.

After Shua’s passing at the age of 31, Simi seriously considered shutting down the business. She was pregnant and couldn’t imagine continuing the business without Shua’s help.

But then fans of the brand and the greater Jewish community raised over $1 million from almost 9,000 people on Charidy, the crowdsourcing fundraising site. “I know no one will be able to heal my broken heart, but at the times when I feel like I just cannot keep my arms raised any longer, your love and support are the rocks that hold them for me,” Simi wrote in an Instagram post.

Shua was also a big part of molding The Frock into a successful business. When the business began, he was an honorary CFO. And although he had just graduated and was poised to begin a career as a therapist, he was planning on working part-time for The Frock. “Because he’s like, guys, I’m making this huge,” said Simi. “Everything had to do with Shua.”

“Everything,” Chaya concurred.

“This business would have ended 20 times over if not for Shua,” said Simi. “There have been so many times over the years where if we had a bad month, or if we came up with a challenge which every business has — even Nike and Coca Cola — and if that would happen to us I’d be like, ‘Shua, I’m quitting. I’m quitting. We’re going to fail. We’re going to fail.’ And he’d be like, ‘Are you kidding? You guys are killing it, you’re mad. He taught me, business has to go like this [making hand motions indicating peaks and valleys]. If you don’t go down, you don’t learn, you’re not going to grow. He was our biggest supporter.”

Before the acquisition of this space, The Frock operated out of Simi’s living room. A spare bedroom in Simi’s 2-story apartment functioned as a glorified storage unit, filled with piles of inventory. The impetus for the move was both practical and symbolic: Just a couple of months ago, Simi’s third child was born.

The space will function primarily as an office. “We never wanted to do a full retail store, because during the day we’re busy: we’re working, creating everything for the business,” said Simi. “So this gives us the opportunity to have the space where we can open it for pop-ups.”

The Frock’s new office is on the corner of Rogers Avenue, framed by large windows on two sides to ensure maximum illumination. “We wanted the light, we wanted the street, we wanted to walk in and out,” said Simi. “It’s just easy, comfortable, it’s just bright.”

And while the sisters are excited about this move, Chaya felt a bit nostalgic leaving behind their more modest digs. “I’m going to miss a lot of things about Simi’s house, but we’re going to be so much more productive; no distractions. It’s like a real office, a big space. No children running around,” Chaya said with laugh.

Before The Frock became the popular clothing brand it is today, the company was a consignment shop. The sisters also provided a personal styling service for their customers. It was through personal styling that they realized something was missing. If a customer were to try on a blazer, the sisters would try to help the customer find something to wear underneath. And it hit them: “You need great layering pieces,” said Chaya. “You just need a good silk slip dress.” That slipdress was The Frock’s first foray into the world of design and production. And after realizing that there was a demand for their products, they dropped their consignment business and became a full-time design house.

And although their new office could technically double as a brick-and-mortar shop, there are no plans to operate a full-time shop.

“We’re not even doing open-by-appointment right now,” said Simi. “It’s just going to be advertised pop-ups. We might do once a month to launch a new dress, things like that. And we’ll open the space. And we’ll have other vendors to sell things like jewelry. We’ve partnered with an artisan in Brooklyn to make these,” indicating the twisted metal rings on her fingers, that spelled “ok.”

It feels apropos: The Frock, and, specifically, Simi, are going to be “Ok.”

Michelle Honig is the style writer at the Forward. Contact her at honig@forward.com. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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After A Tragedy, The Frock Expands In Crown Heights

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