The phrase “strike while the iron is hot” means to take advantage of something at the right moment so as to shape it to your whim, and it couldn’t be more applicable to the savvy businesswoman behind luxury’s latest e-commerce platform. Ghizlan Guenez, who recently launched the modest fashion shopping platform The Modist, comes from a background in finance, having worked 12 years in equity before switching course to fashion. In today’s fashion system, business acumen is a must, and Guenez possesses a wealth of experience and knowledge.
In a way, hers is the ideal start-up story: A bright young woman with a background in business finds a niche in the market and exploits it brilliantly. However, what is remarkable about Guenez and The Modist is the timing of it all. In November 2016, The New York Times reported on the rise of modest fashion, which had sharply and noticeably increased at the same time that the fourth-wave feminist movement coalesced. At the time, the media did not know that The Modist launch was already underway, but Guenez must have felt buoyed to see early signs indicating that she was on the right track.
Guenez’s business instincts led her to creating an all-star team of professionals to spearhead the launch of The Modist. Her team is comprised of Sasha Sarokin, a former buyer from Net-a-Porter, Lisa Bridgett, a former global sales and marketing director from Net-a-Porter, Sally Matthews, a former fashion and beauty director from Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and Dima Ayad, fashion designer and former marketing director at Atlantis The Palm. Together, they plotted to create a one-stop shopping destination for women all around the world who preferred to dress modestly, be it for personal or religious reasons.
In Savoir Flair’s exclusive interview with Guenez, we investigate her extraordinary timing in launching The Modist at the height of the modest fashion movement and explore her prescient vision of fashion’s future.
Modesty, particularly in the Middle East, is a value that stems from religious beliefs, but for many women it goes much deeper than that. What does modesty personally mean to you?
Modesty to me is a way of life. It goes beyond the clothes that one wears to the way one carries one’s self. It’s about a personal preference and how comfortable a woman feels in her own skin; how she wants to be perceived, and mostly a representation of her true self.
There is a global misperception of modest dress. When modesty is mentioned by the media — particularly Western media — they are speaking exclusively of traditional dress like hijabs and abayas. How will you change that perception with The Modist?
There is a conversation and a momentum that is building around expressing the different nuances to modest dressing, and an example of that is what we have seen in recent runway shows such as Gucci, Delpozo, Max Mara, and Alberta Ferretti. And whilst it isn’t untrue that one facet of dressing modestly is embodied in the hijab and abaya, it is not the only facet. Modesty is such a wide spectrum, and it is important to appreciate the diversity of the modest dresser and not peg it into one stereotype.
Women who prefer modest dress for personal and religious reasons have been underserved by the luxury fashion market for so long. Why is now the right time to launch a modesty-centric e-commerce platform?
As far as we are concerned, The Modist could have launched at a different time and it would still have been relevant because the need is perennial and was always there. It may have been challenging to get the word out and for the world to embrace it, but that is a different story. Having said that, the timing of our launch couldn’t have been better. There is a movement by women around the world rallying up for equal rights, freedom to express themselves in the way that they see fit, and a need to embrace diversity. This movement transcends into fashion, which has demonstrated that it can be inclusive in a way that was never witnessed before. We are extremely excited about the prospect of playing a role, however big or small, in bridging the gap that exists between the world of luxury fashion and our woman.
There is a conversation and a momentum that is building around expressing the different nuances to modest dressing.
How did you come to enlist fashion luminaries like Lisa Bridgett and Sasha Sarokin to join The Modist? What was your pitch to them?
There wasn’t a pitch as such. I shared the story and my passion, and it resonated with them. Each of them brings strength and expertise in their own individual areas, but they all share passion for the story and for The Modist’s purpose.
Given the timeliness of The Modist’s launch and the rapid growth of the modest fashion market, you are likely to experience significant growth. As the sole investor backing the project, how do you plan to restructure the company once The Modist is turning a profit?
The Modist was set up with the mindset and strategy to enable it for growth and scale. Restructuring plans at this stage are a premature conversation, but what is to our advantage as a start-up is our ability to be agile and nimble should the opportunity (or challenges, for that matter) require us to do so, without losing focus on our raison d’être.
How are you planning to leverage social media to spread The Modist message?
Social media has become this incredibly powerful platform and communication tool. The manner, scale, and speed at which one can connect with customers is unprecedented, and we intend to completely engage with our woman through it – be it to connect, listen, and learn about her every day, or to share our story, brand, and our fashion through it.
It looks as if your team is predominantly female. Was that a conscious decision?
Yes, in a way. I am inspired by strong and driven women and I am fortunate to have had quite a few of these in my life, some of whom have now become colleagues. Women bring a lot to the table, with a certain kind of energy and passion. Having said that, the women in my team were first and foremost chosen for their skills and expertise, and for what they bring to the table. Our team also includes men who are equally talented and experienced.
Any woman who is confident, empowered, and empowering of others is an icon of ours and a Modist woman.
Was it daunting to launch your own e-commerce business given the uncertain political climate in the world and last year’s downturn in the luxury market? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced so far?
There is always an element of risk in everything that one does, but where there is challenge there is opportunity. The Modist was founded as a response to a true need and a personal frustration and experience, but it also is a business founded on a clear opportunity and addressable market. And in a way, launching at a time that is more challenging gives us the edge and a first mover advantage, when perhaps that may not have been the case should the climate have been more encouraging.
You are stocking inventory from major brands like Marni and Christopher Kane, which are also available on competitor sites. Why do you think women will choose to buy these products on The Modist?
Whilst many of the brands that we stock are available elsewhere, what we offer is more than just that. There is an element of convenience in finding everything that you want under one roof. Our entire proposition from beginning to end speaks to the modest dresser, and what we do not offer her is as important as what we do offer her. She does not need to sift through countless products to find what suits her. Everything that is curated on the site is done with her needs in mind, styled in a manner that is relevant to her and presented beautifully as a solution to both her sartorial and lifestyle choices. We also offer her content that is relevant and that inspires and celebrates her.
Who are your modest-fashion icons?
Our muses range from royalty and fashion icons to women of substance in various fields and different walks of life, all the way to women who aren’t necessarily known but are beautiful, fashionable, and impactful in their own right. Any woman who is confident, empowered, and empowering of others is an icon of ours and a Modist woman.