The Modist: the Dubai etailer offering modest mode for busy ladies
Besides creating a state-of-the-art fashion season, Dubai is also home to a dynamic new fashion e-commerce business - and one with a very novel twist. Named, The Modist (pronounced The Modeist), it’s the dream of entrepreneur Ghizlan Guenez, whose own frustrations shopping for modest fashion led her to create an e-commerce business for women searching a demure style; for clothes that are more mysterious than revealing.
Founder and CEO Guenez launched The Modist on March 8, International Women’s Day, with a crisp design by the Born Group of London, and an initial 75 brands. Seven months later the number has doubled to 140 labels, ranging from Cédric Charlier, Lanvin, Marni, Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou, Alberta Ferretti, and Adam Lippes.
“It’s the way women in our family dress, on our frustrations with the shopping experience that we were going through. This is about women who love fashion, yet dress modestly and who spend a lot of time trying to find pieces that work for them,” explains the Algerian-born Guenez, who financed The Modist herself, after working over a decade for the Abraaj Group, a private equity firm specializing in emerging markets – from financing wind power platforms in India to a coffee house chain in Kenya.
The Modist has similarities to fashion e-tailers like Net-a-Porter or ModaOperandi, but differentiates itself in three key ways, explains Guenez. “First, by our product choice, by editing existing collections that we think would work for our clients. Then, by how we customize certain pieces. For example, with Adam Lippes there was a jump suit last season that had a sheer panel on the side and we changed that to opaque. Finally, by our capsule collections that are specifically for this woman – with some pieces made from scratch. A capsule collection for Ramadan of kaftans - we had Mary Katrantzou, Osman, Alberta Ferretti and Adam Lippes, around 12 brands making exclusive products,” she explains.
Guenez, 38, is maddeningly secretive about finances, refusing to divulge revenues. However, her site has clearly won the confidence of major designers, and achieves a high average price point of over 500 US dollars, with its blend of designer and contemporary. She does reveal that the Middle East accounts for 50% of revenue; her second market is the US and third is the UK. With the Islamic apparel market estimated at around $250 billion, and digital retailing accounting for a mere two percent in the region, rather than 15 percent in mature markets, there should be plenty of room for rapid growth.
“In the US, local consumers are buying. This surprised some people, but not us – as we knew our proposition would work for the western woman as much for the eastern woman, the Christian as much for the Muslim. She could be a lady lawyer in Brooklyn or a Saudi lady shopping for her next trip,” she insists.
The Modist has also edged into bricks and mortar – opening a pop up in the Dubai Design District (D3), during the city state’s recent fashion season. The Modist also showed its Fall collections in the Four Seasons Hotel at Burj Alshaya, with limited exclusive pieces available to order.
Luxury brands are clearly comfortable with The Modist, which has assembled a strong team. Its COO is Lisa Bridgett, who was previously global head of sales and marketing at Net-a-Porter, after launching e-commerce for Ralph Lauren in Europe. Creative Director is Sally Matthews, who oversees the site’s snappy magazine The Mod, and used to be the fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia. While The Modist’s Head Buyer is Sasha Sarokin, an eight-year veteran of Net-a-Porter.
“It is a very strong team of women who are pulling this together. A team of experts in their field,” says Guenez of her workforce of 35, most of based in D3. They already fulfill to over 120 countries, with impressive delivery times: 36 hours on average in the UK; two to three days in the US and overnight in the Middle East. Plus, the hashtag IAmModist has gone quietly viral, aided by local fashion stars like Lady Fozaza and Rosemin. Though theirs is modesty with a snazzy Gulf kick.
As a former venture capitalist, she must plan to sell The Modist one day? “The idea is to grow the business first. Do we want to go public? Potentially yes. But I did not start this business with a mindset of selling. I started because I am passionate about the idea. My fashion experience is as a consumer, but a frustrated one. And, I want to change that for many women.”
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