Controversy is already swirling around Julia Haart and her upcoming Netflix reality series My Unorthodox Life, which premieres July 14.
The show centers around Haart’s personal and professional life and details her escape from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey, New York. The mother-of-four grew up there and left in November of 2012 when she was 42-years-old. This was the only life she had ever known and she didn’t know anyone in the outside world. Prior to the series premiere, Haart has already experienced both backlash and support.
“I am not an anti-Semite,” Haart stated in a phone interview. “I am Jewish. I love my religion and I love the people in my community. Fundamentalism, however, has nothing to do with Judaism. Fundamentalism has to go.”
Over the course of nine episodes, the series follows Haart as she leads by example to help her children – a TikToker, an app designer, a lawyer and a high schooler – reconcile the two conflicting cultures of their orthodox upbringings and the modern world. It also details what followed after her escape from the extremist religious sect and her rise from housewife to shoe designer to CEO and co-owner of the modeling agency Elite World Group. She’s also the creative director of the company’s first fashion collection, e1972, a size-less luxury brand that creates made-to-measure styles.
“I was suicidal for years,” she tells me. Suicide is taboo in that world so Haart’s plan was to starve herself to death, so it would appear she had an eating disorder which carries less of a stigma. She didn’t want her children to be punished for her sins. “I was a skeleton. I weighed just 73 pounds at the time.” It was her daughter Miriam, she says, who saved her.
Haart had diligently followed the strict set of rules set for her, and all in her community, especially the women, until she just couldn’t anymore. She explains feeling guilty her entire life for not believing what she’d been taught. “It was an uneven fight,” she says. “I was questioning thousands of years of tradition but I had this feeling that what I was being told wasn’t right.”
Two years after leaving her community, at 45 years-old with just a high school education and no prior work experience, Haart walked into La Perla with an idea and a dream. She had already created a line of shoes in 2013 that sold in 17 countries. What came from that meeting in 2015 was a co-branded shoe line that would later be sold in 127 stores.
She has an answer for anyone who questions her self-made success. “People will say, ‘What’s the big deal? She just married a rich guy.’ The truth is, this was before I met my husband. One thing had nothing to do with the other.”
The fashion mogul adds how she cannot stand misogynistic thinking. “It’s ridiculous to say that a woman needs a man behind her to find success. I work hard.” For her, 20-hour workdays are a regular thing. “A woman can be independent and financially successful on her own.”
She joined Elite World Group as the company’s CEO in April of 2019 when it was valued at $90 million. “Today, we are valued at slightly over $1 billion. That was in just two years in the middle of Covid!”
She wants to create an army of strong women with EWG. “We’re a female-centric media conglomerate that’s giving women longevity in their careers.” Clients use their own social media and built-in audiences to sell products and share their stories with the world. “These women become their own brand. They have the power in their hands and we help them keep it. This is a massive power shift.” And, she adds, the company is taking this way beyond the runway. “If you have a talent, or an expertise, and are passionate about it, I can monetize that.”
Her story is inspirational and relatable to anyone who has ever felt stuck in their life circumstances. Haart lists the three steps she took in her transformation. “First, you have to face your reality and give yourself the permission to acknowledge that you’re not happy. This is the most difficult step. The second step is that once you’ve faced your reality you must know that it’s in your power to change it. And third, listen to yourself and do what feels right for you.”
She reiterates that it isn’t any particular religion that she has an issue with; extremism is the problem. “Fundamentalism can only exist in isolation. The message that everyone else is bad and you are the only ones who are good can only be believed if you don’t meet anyone outside your world. The greatest way to combat that is through education, not anger or hate.”
You can hear more of Haart’s story in her new memoir “Brazen: My Unorthodox Journey from Long Sleeves to Lingerie” which is now available for pre-sale on Amazon. “I love the title because in my former world brazen was the biggest insult you could give a woman. Women are supposed to be silent and invisible, not obnoxiously outspoken.”
Of the expected backlash, she says those in her former community will have an explanation for her success. “They’ll say I did more than 40 years of good service to God and so I’m getting rewarded in this world but I’ll suffer later in hell.”
She chooses to focus more on those who are supporting her. “I’ve already received hundreds of messages on social media from women from my former life and they see my success and are asking me if everything they’ve been told is a lie. This is a good thing! Let women question their circumstances and demand equality!”