They say success in business is all about timing and for The Modist, a luxury fashion site dedicated to modest clothing, there is no time like the present. In the year since its founder Ghizlan Guenez launched the site, on International Women’s Day 2017), there has been an explosion of interest in modest fashion and beauty. In the past twelve months, the charismatic beauty, Halima Aden, has emerged as the first hijab-wearing supermodel – walking mainstream fashion week catwalks and becoming the first hijab-wearing Vogue covergirl with the covers of British and Arabian Vogue in the same month. (“Somebody needs to be the first and it makes me happy to know that I definitely not going to be the last,” she has said of her trailblazing). Elsewhere, Nura Afia became the first hijab-wearing woman to star in a CoverGirl beauty campaign, and Muslim beauty bloggers like Huda Kattan and Sabina Hannan are among the most influential in the world.
The modest market is booming and The Modist, (pronounced Mode-ist) which stocks a modern mix of designers including Christopher Kane, Erdem, Marc Jacobs, Ellery and Mary Katrantzou, expects to grow 350% this year. No wonder the site has been described as the Net-a-Porter of modest clothing. “The Modist comes from a personal place,” says Guenez who worked in finance for 15 years, splitting her time between London and Dubai, before setting up the site. “I grew up in a family surrounded by women who dress modestly, and they did that for various reasons: some of us loved it as a style preference and others did it for religious reasons. It was truly a diverse group of women and just like the women in my family, there are millions of women out there, whether in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, America, that decide to dress this way and yet there wasn’t one platform that offers them modest yet fashionable pieces that are already curated for them.”
Unlike other online specialists in modest wear (such as Shukr) Guenez describes The Modist as “agnostic” explaining that she set up the site with a diverse global audience in mind rather than one religious group. Its largest market is the Middle East, closely followed by the US and the the UK but shoppers come from all denominations.
“The modest fashion market is a niche and yet it’s a huge niche and often times when people talk about modest fashion they speak about the Islamic fashion spend which is at $260 billion (USD) globally and estimated to reach about $360 billion by 2020. The reality of the woman that we speak to is that she’s not just a Muslim woman, she’s a Muslim woman, she’s a Christian woman, she’s across religions,” or as Guenez explains, she could have no religion at all and simply be looking for fashion-forward clothes that suit her lifestyle and need. “She could be a curvy woman,” explains Guenez – the site has plenty of fluid flattering pieces designed to skim the body as opposed to cling. Older women, “who prefer a more chic and elegant look,” are also keen shoppers says Guenez because The Modist is a great place to find stylish dresses with long sleeves (particularly for evening).
It’s also attracting businesswomen who don’t want to wear the usual black or dark suit but do want something work appropriate yet interesting and fashionable. “If you think of all those different consumer segments then the markets that we are looking into are quiet large and they are across the globe, from the East all the way to the West,” says Guenez.
The Modist edits designer collections for modest pieces, but also works with brands on exclusive pieces in longer lengths, special fabrications and with sleeves. After a stellar first year, the next step in The Modist’s evolution is Layeur, its own-label of fashion forward pieces that are directly inspired by its customer base.
“Ultimately, Layeur is a brand that was created by the community of women, by listening to them and by capturing data about their needs. Our knowledge has evolved and progressed, and we now have an even clearer understanding of what this woman is looking for,” says Guenez. They don’t want to sacrifice an ounce of style, but there are conditions. “You could find a blazer anywhere, but we think about the length of it and how it covers the right parts of the woman’s body and ensures that she’s comfortable in it. It could be a simple white shirt, but the opacity of the fabric is taken into consideration, the thickness of the fabric whilst keeping it breathable is also something that we’ve considered very closely, and the list goes on. So, it really is around the nuances that we consider in every piece.”
The Modist (and Layeur) is taking modest fashion to the next level but the beauty of it is that you don’t have to be into modest wear to appreciate the value of a maxi skirt that is properly maxi, silk joggers that can be dressed up or down and long sleeved jersey layering pieces that are super-lightweight but don’t show the shadow of a bra underneath.