As a fashion editor who has been in the business for about 10 years, I’ve come across my fair share of e-commerce sites. Some are established and well known—Net-a-Porter and Shopbop, for example—while others are new with wonderful, hyper-curated edits like Avenue 32 and Stylebop. Then there are those that completely shatter the mold, filling a niche you didn’t even realize was empty. The Modist, a luxury e-tailer that specializes in high-end ready-to-wear and accessories for the modest dresser, falls into that camp.
Launched less than four months ago by Ghizlan Guenez, the brand’s founder (who worked in private equity for over 10 years before switching to fashion) The Modist (pronounced mode-ist), aims to be the top style destination for women who choose to dress modestly. While the labels that are carried can also be found on competing websites, the emphasis is on luxury items that can be mixed, matched, and styled with conservatism in mind.
Some might say Modist is trying to capitalize on the Islamic female customer. If so, the site certainly wouldn’t be the first. Just two years ago, Melanie Elturk, the CEO of Haute Hijab, glowingly wrote about an H&M ad campaign featuring a hijab-wearing model, and ELLE.com covered Dolce & Gabbana’s launch of hijabs and abayas. But after exploring The Modist’s offerings, it’s evident that the site also caters to women for whom dressing modestly is a choice.
“Our position is to celebrate woman and their choice of style,” Sasha Sarokin, buying and fashion director for the brand, tells me over the phone from London. “We fiercely believe in smashing the stereotypes of why women choose to dress modestly.” With labels like Palmer//Harding, Christopher Kane, Ellery, Stella Jean, Adam Lippes and over 70 others, “we are not only speaking to one demographic who is choosing to dress modestly for religious or cultural reasons, we are choosing to embrace the aesthetic of modest dressing,” says Sarokin.
The Modist’s creative director, Sally Matthews, agrees. Most recently the fashion and beauty director of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, the e-commerce newbie is responsible for the general feel of the site. “Everything from the e-commerce styling, and the content, and how we write that up, to the home page, to the visuals you see, to the editorial side of things,” says Matthews, calling from Dubai. “I’m ensuring that we have inspiring content there, which obviously then goes across to our social channels and everything we push out.” A major key to getting that right? The styling, agree Sarokin and Matthews.
“It’s deeply important and really brings the product to life,” says Sarokin. “It’s one of the most fun parts of the business model we have because we’re also helping women who seek modest clothing discover things that they would not have necessarily seen because of the styling,” she says. Echoes Matthews, “Sometimes [our shopper] has to go to many stores to find the certain coverage that she needs. So we think, ‘how can we break that down, make that easy for her, and make it an effortless process that will also inspire her through the product styling.'” Maybe she’ll walk away with inspiration or maybe she’ll buy the look—either way the aim for The Modist is to celebrate. The brand also succeeds because of the product descriptions says Matthews. “We include details that aren’t typically addressed like the opacity of a product. If she’s going buy it only to realize it’s super sheer, that’s not gonna be ideal for her.” In breaking down the pieces and really helping the shopper understand what pieces she’s buying and how to wear them, the site wins Matthew argues.
“You’re not going to see only long sleeves and only long hem lines,” says Sarokin. “You will see a variety of products and when you see our products styled and you see our interpretation of it you’ll see it has a diverse array of applications to many of us.”
Though the company hopes to attract a wide range of customers, exactly who is shopping The Modist thus far? “By evaluating the demand in online search engines, our number one market is the UAE, specifically Dubai, but number two is America and three is the U.K.,” says chief operating office Lisa Bridgett. “There are a few women who you might say are buying for religious values or purposes but there also business women, there are older women, there are a lot of Anglo-Saxon women, there are French women, there are Canadian women, there are Singapore women, there are Chinese women—it’s a global proposition.” As of a month ago the only county that hadn’t visited the site was Iceland.
As Sarokin (and pretty much everyone who works for The Modist) says, “There’s no one definition of what is modest, per say.” Thankfully, with a site like this one, you’ll be able to create your own in style.