Despite the fact that modest fashion is expected to grow into a £387 billion market by 2019, the category is still very much underserved. But, a new e-commerce destination is hoping to cater to one slice of that demographic, a segment that produces 630,000 online search terms globally, working together with fashion brands who have been equally keen to appeal to the demographic.
Whether it’s for religious or cultural reasons, or just a preference for a more classic, conservative look, the modesty movement is big news, and founder Ghizlan Guenez, a Dubai resident who grew up between Algiers, Beirut, and London, and previously spent 14 years in private equity, has succeeded in bridging the gap that exists between modest women and the world of luxury fashion. For her, shopping for modest clothing was a challenge, even in Islamic Dubai, but now thanks to her site, modesty-oriented customers worldwide have a one-stop shop for luxury fashion, offering curated fashion from countless retailers which fit the brand aesthetic, be it long sleeves, long hems, opacity of clothes or even collaborations with designers who have tweaked and altered pieces accordingly.
Guenez has gathered a particularly impressive team to help bring this vision to life, split between Dubai and London, yet still offering a global presence. Two members come from Net-a-Porter, including the company’s former Global Sales and Marketing Director, Lisa Bridgett, who is The Modist’s Chief Operating Officer, and its former Global Buying Director, Sasha Sarokin, who serves as Buying and Fashion Director.
The site itself reflects their combined expertise, with its clean, elevated layout and trend-driven shoppable content, including interviews and editorial spreads shot in-house on the level of any top fashion magazine or website. These feature live in their in-house magazine, The Mod, a monthly endeavour championing stylish and inspirational modesty, which not only speaks to a woman’s sartorial choices but also empowers her, offering a new voice to women of style and substance worldwide.
Here, Guenez shares her insights on how to be both covered up and chic at the height of the modest fashion movement, together with exploring fashion’s future.
What prompted you to come up with the concept, and launch The Modist?
The idea of launching The Modist is personal to me. I was brought up in a family of women who love fashion and who dress modestly and have personally experienced the frustrating and alienating shopping experience trying to find fashionable pieces that respect the parameters within which we dress. Building a business that offers an elevated solution to this woman, and aims to empower her is a real passion of mine and of my team.
How did you identify this gap in the market, and what was the catalyst behind starting your own business?
The gap was evident not only through my personal experience but that of many of the women who I have known and interacted with regionally and globally. There is no offering for a modest dresser in the luxury space and it made sense for me both commercially and emotionally to launch a business in this realm.
Do you feel your previous career gave you a good grounding and invaluable experience for this endeavour?
Absolutely. I was fortunate to have spent 13 years in a company that always had a big vision and I was part of its growth and success. Working closely with the leadership of that company taught me the importance of a strong vision, choosing the right team, and executing to perfection.
Why is now the right time to launch a modesty-centric e-commerce platform?
The timing seems perfect in many ways, but we could have launched The Modist any other time and it would have still been relevant. The momentum may have been different, but the need has always been there. Dressing modestly is a perennial need for large populations of women and goes beyond a trend or a particular incident that made it popular.
There is a global misperception of modest dress, with people thinking of traditional dress. How will you change that perception with The Modist?
There are many misperceptions around modesty being traditional, boring, dull and many other things, and at The Modist we take pleasure in breaking these stereotypes. Modesty can be fashion forward, trendy, fresh, and cool. It also does not relate to just one religion or region, and it transcends faiths and backgrounds. It takes a quick spin on our site and our online magazine, The Mod, to see how our visuals speak to modesty in a very fashion forward and cool way.
What sets The Modist apart from other e-commerce platforms?
We are a specialist retailer and we address a niche. We offer a solution to a woman who used to spend hours and go through hundreds of products to find what works for her. On The Modist, we do the curation for her and we do not offer her what is not relevant to her. We also inspire her through our styling and through our editorials in The Mod magazine.
Can you share your perception of modesty?
I think modesty transcends what you wear and goes beyond that to how you carry yourself.
How do you balance modest dressing while keeping up with trends?
That’s exactly what we do at The Modist. The reality is that there is no ‘balancing’ required. Dressing modestly does not contradict being trendy. That’s just a misconception.
Tell us how you curated the list of designers who you decided to feature on The Modist?
It was important for us to choose designers who were inherently aligned with our aesthetics in terms of modesty. The curation of the brands took that into consideration as well as bringing some brands that are emerging and aren’t necessarily very known. We love the idea of championing young brands that we believe in.
Do share with us more about how your platform helps emerging talent?
If you look at the designer list on The Modist you will find many emerging designers from the region and globally, sitting side by side with more established brands. That’s part of how we support designers. If we see talent and quality coupled with beautiful aesthetics we go for it. It’s part of what we enjoy, which is having a fresh line of designers alongside the more recognised ones.
Can you tell us about future capsule collections we can look forward to?
These are in the making and part of our offering. Ramadan is always an exciting month of collaborations, but we will have collaborations beyond Ramadan. Keep an eye out for what’s coming!
You have been mentioning ‘The Mod’ magazine. Tell us a little bit about this?
The content element is an essential part of our business. It was important for us to offer our woman an end-to-end experience that is relevant to her in every way including the content. In The Mod, we share beautiful editorials, inspiring stories of women that we feature as well as breaking stereotypes about modesty, showcasing the diversity of women. We aim to inspire, inform, and celebrate our woman through our content.
Do you feel that being a woman at the helm of a brand for women allows you to have the best insight into your customer needs?
There is no doubt that being a woman who personally experienced the needs of the customer base that we serve makes me insightful about many of the customer needs, but that is not to say that we stopped learning. We are constantly asking and listening to our customers and we know that we can always evolve our experience to serve her in the best possible way.
Also, it looks as if your team is predominantly female. Was that a conscious decision?
We are a brand that is for women by women. 80% of our team is women and whilst it was a conscious decision to do so, all our team was hired first and foremost because they are talented and competent in their roles.
Is fashion in your genes? Did you always dream of moving into the fashion world?
I have always loved fashion. My first memory of fashion was around my mother and how glamorous she was. I remember her travelling quite often and dressing up for her travels which was quite a thing in the 80s unlike today where we’re all about practicality at the airport. So, looking presentable and enjoying fashion has always been part of who I am. Having said that, I never thought I would be a player in the industry.
How would you describe your personal style?
I have a versatile style, but I like a classic look with a twist. I enjoy balancing things out, so if I wear a bold print or colour then I like the lines to be clean, but if I’m going for a simple look then I like to amp it up with accessories.
Who are your modest-fashion icons?
Her Majesty Queen Rania tops the list with her impeccable style. I also love how Jenna Lyons puts the most unexpected pieces together and makes them work, and I like Cleo Wade’s effortless cool style.
Do you have a favourite piece on site currently?
I’ve got my eye on a beautiful silk maxi dress by La DoubleJ in a retro print. It’s so versatile and can be dressed up or down. It’s a perfect day to evening piece.
What are your top wardrobe must haves?
A beautifully tailored suit in ivory from Phillip Lim.
A shirt from Palmer//Harding who make the most amazing and interesting shirts.
Big earrings from Ellery or Racil that add a touch of glam to any outfit.
Can you share with us the most cherished item in your wardrobe?
A Yves Saint Laurent coat that I stole from my mother that is over 30 years old. It still looks as relevant as it did back in the 80s.
What has been your greatest achievement?
Launching The Modist, a brand with a lot of meaning and purpose behind its beautiful curation and commerciality has been one of my biggest achievements.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. People are often happy to lend support if asked.