Joelle Janigian has a passion for fashion. More importantly, she says, she has a passion for Jesus.
The 23-year-old former Auburn resident, who recently moved to Boston, has combined her life's two greatest joys in an online blog called "My Sunday Dress," which has gained a level of recognition she never imagined possible.
In addition to the website, which she launched a year ago and at times garners thousands of hits a day, Janigian said, the "My Sunday Dress" Facebook page has gained more than 4,400 followers in that time.
"I kind of figured, because the faith aspect was there, that most people would be kind turned off by it and only a select few would actually be interested," she said. "But I just wanted to trust in God and say, 'If this is something you want me to do, then this is what I'm going to move forward with and do, and I believe you have a purpose behind it, even if I can't see it clearly.'"
Janigian said her embrace and love of the fashion industry is a fairly new development.
"I never really considered myself a fashionista," she said. "When I was younger - and even in high school - I always loved putting clothes together, combining different things, adding certain jewelry, and once I got to college, I started defining it more, and I realized I really like fashion and started researching more and following the latest trends and watching the runway shows online. And I think as my education in fashion grew, so did my interest in fashion and love for fashion."
Started with photos
Janigian started her online forays into fashion by posting photos in online social forums but, she said, she quickly became bored and lost interest.
"I knew I loved fashion still, but I just didn't know how to express that," she said. "One day, I was literally on my hands and knees praying in my room - just a normal nighttime prayer - and all of a sudden God gave me the idea to start this blog. I mean, He even gave me the name, 'My Sunday Dress.'"
Though she said the name didn't immediately strike a cord with her, she continued to pray on the concept and trust in God.
"I believe God gave me a vision for it, but one of my first thoughts was, 'I can't do this; I'm a horrible writer,'" she said. "I always hated papers in school, and to be honest, it was my biggest struggle."
But that's where the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9 provided her with guidance: "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
"Everything else lined up," Janigian said. "I loved the fact I could talk about Jesus and God and talk about my love for fashion. Yes, there's some things I'm insecure and nervous about, but I believe that God will shine through in those areas, and any work that I do, people will know is because of him and how he refined me and strengthened me."
Janigian, who attended Manchester Memorial High School before majoring in computer information systems and minoring in marketing at Bentley University, is employed full-time as a mobile applications designer in the education history. She said she has chosen to avoid generating income through advertising on her website in favor of building a trusting audience. She has, however, partnered with and featured clothing items from fashion designers from Manchester to Los Angeles.
Janigian said her recent move to Boston has opened many doors, providing increased access to some of the region's top fashion boutiques and making her part of a community of city bloggers who feed off and encourage one another.
Earlier this year, Janigian ventured to Tampa, Fla., where she participated in Christian Fashion Week, which consisted of runway shows and socializing opportunities among people who share her passions.
"I believe there's no better time than now to combine faith and fashion," said Tamy Lugo, founder of Christian Fashion Week. "Fashion is something that everyone thinks of every day, including anyone who considers their personal beliefs, standards or morals when they pick out clothes from their closet.
"Joelle does a beautiful job with My Sunday Dress, providing young women inspiration for both the inner and outer image, from what to wear to encouraging awareness that fashion should not be used as a sexually negative influence but as a positive influence with the ability to make a difference in this world."
Since starting her blog, Janigian said, she's spoken at several conferences and received emails from countless Christian girls and young women seeking advice on fashion, relationships and in life in general.
"I think one of my favorite things about having this blog is, it kind of makes me a 'go-to' person in terms of talking about faith and fashion, and also talking about Christian relationships and everything that's tied into that," she said. "Yes, I focus on faith and fashion, but I want to focus on building a community and sharing with girls how the Bible is relevant for their lives.
"You know, the Bible covers so many different topics ... and the Bible talks so much about relationships, but it's not always obvious to those who just kind of skim through, so I love kind of taking and pulling out certain verses and sharing them with both girls and guys to show them how relevant the Bible really is to their dating lives."
One of the key elements to Janigian's online ministry, she said, is promoting fashionable modesty.
"I've seen a lot of other modesty blogs, and, to be honest, they do a great job with the modesty aspect, but there's not necessarily that fashion component," she said. "I am very passionate about combing both, and part of that is being up to date with the leading fashion and finding those trends that are modest and appropriate for all girls to wear."
Janigian said she hopes to continue becoming more involved in the fashion industry. She envisions someday organizing a My Sunday Dress conference and maybe even creating a modest yet fashionable swimsuit line. If those developments come to fruition, she said, they'll be the result of her continuing trust in God.
To learn more about Janigian and her website, visit mysundaydress.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MySundayDress.