There was a time when Israel’s reputation for fostering business wasn’t – let’s be charitable about it – not that positive, but that was years ago.
Marci Rapp shows off her line of beach clothing.
Marci and Harold Rapp have discovered quite a different reality as new olim in the Jewish state. As they try to get their swimwear business off the ground, they’ve found “lots of support” from various ministries and agencies, Marci said on the phone from their home in Jerusalem.
The Rapps found they qualified for low-interest loans, interest-only payments, free consulting services, help in developing a website and other perks to help them get their feet on the ground.
The result was the creation last January of MarSea Modest Swimwear, a company that produces a line of swimming clothes for a niche market (www.marseamodest.com).
“This is modest swimwear for religious women and for those wanting some protection or those wanting to cover up age, weight or medical imperfections,” said Marci. “I designed everything from swim dresses, tops, shorts, capris, swim berets, bandanas and tankinis.”
Harold believes that while they’re catering to a niche market, it’s quite a large niche. “There are lots of frum women who go to beaches, resorts, cruises, and they’re making do with what’s out there, which isn’t much,” he said.
There are also plenty of Christian women as well who are looking for “modest” swim gear, plus a substantial number of women who are attracted to the product for vanity reasons. “There are so many months of beautiful weather here, beaches, resorts, the opportunity to go to the beach is greater than in Toronto,” Marci said.
Like many other startups, sales numbers in the first year are admittedly “small,” said Harold. “This was our first summer and coupled with our financial situation, we couldn’t get our inventory in time and now we are carrying inventory.”
Although they now have two people selling for them, they have to do most of the legwork themselves, Marci said. After she designs the outfits, she drives to the town of Shoham, near Ben-Gurion Airport, where her pattern-maker resides. Fabric, a high-quality nylon/lycra blend that is manufactured in Italy, comes from a shop in Tel Aviv, is printed in Shoham, brought back to the manufacturer in Tel Aviv for production.
Because they are new customers with a modest order, they often find themselves last in line when it comes to production, Harold said.
Their first run was only 300 swim dresses, which almost sold out, Marci said.
Marketing and sales is also done on a small scale. Many are sold from their apartment in Katamon, others at home shows, mini-malls, fairs or street stalls.
Though still a young enterprise, MarSea Modest is already looking abroad for sales. “We have a store in the Catskills [upstate New York, about a two-hour drive from New York City], that has sold most of the swim dresses sent there.
Aretz Originals in Thornhill, Ont., has also sold a few of their tankini sets, she added.
“We do plan to grow [the business],” she said, “but right now, for the first six months, we’re getting used to getting around, introducing ourselves and perfecting new designs. We hope to increase our variety, our customer types, do more home shows, mini-malls and advertising.”
Getting a foot in the door at larger retailers has proven a challenge. Most aren’t interested and those who are will only do so on consignment, limiting their incentive to sell them, Marci believes.
Hotel gift shops want nothing to do with them – and tell them so in rather abrupt language, Marci said.
She has a good mind to complain to the managers – except it was the managers who were less than courteous to them. It’s all part of adapting to a new business environment, which includes plenty of challenges along with the advantages, Marci said.
Language is one of the biggest adaptations to deal with, Marci and Harold agree, along with production difficulties at the small plant and “not always getting exactly what you asked for,” Marci said.
Cash flow is also an issue for the Rapps, as is getting the product out to where the public can see it. And they rely heavily on local accountants to advise them about Israeli laws and regulations.
Still, with three of their sons living in Israel, the Holy Land is where they want to be. Residents of Thornhill for most of their lives, in 2008 they moved to Israel with their daughter and embarked on new careers as well as new lifestyles. In Toronto, Marci worked as a bookkeeper for Zareinu and Harold was in the kosher food business.
“The whole idea of this business germinated in the Muskokas,” Harold recalled. “We rented cottages and we found my wife and friends, to be modest, wore cotton T-shirts over bathing suits. That does not work well in the water,” getting heavy and clingy, he said.
There didn’t appear to be much available on the market and “if you can’t find suitable items, that means there is a need,” he added.
Harold is confident the business will grow by 50 per cent this year as word gets out. “It’s a huge market and it’s only getting bigger,” he said.