Exchanging ideas with Mary Katrantzou at this year's Fashion Forward Dubai, Ghizlan Guenez, founder of e-commerce platform The Modist revealed why she is on a mission to transform societal perceptions of modesty: her latest venture aims to empower individuality without prescribing rules or a specific way of dressing, filling a void in the market for women struggling to find fashion-forward shopping destinations for modest dressing. "The Modist is a movement that encourages confidence, self-empowerment and remaining true to personal values," she mused.
Featuring a curated edit of established labels like Alberta Ferretti, Christopher Kane and Marni, emerging brands are hand-selected on the basis that they can sit next to them on the virtual shop floor with ease. "There’s a high expectation for these [newer] designers to make their own mark, and to produce collections that are cohesive and produced with beautiful quality,” said Guenez. Some of the younger talents include international up and comers like Ellery, Ganni, Rejina Pyo, Esteban Cortazar and Stine Goya.
Guenez worked for over a decade in private equity at The Abraaj Group, accumulating expertise in brand development, partnership-building and launching sustainability programmes in emerging markets - a combination that helped her cultivate a strong business acumen. Revealing the roots of The Modist, Guenez noted that being part of the success story of The Abraaj Group instilled within her the right skills to make The Modist happen, although the idea mostly came from a personal place.
Growing up in a household of women, each with different backgrounds and dressing modestly for different reasons, Guenez explained: “Some of us are professionals and find it more appropriate to dress in a modest way; others are religious and wear the Hijab. But we all love fashion and find it frustrating to shop and find pieces that are beautiful, that speak to us and are relevant to us."
“The premise of The Modist is to create an inclusive platform that is beyond just the commercial – a place that champions diversity and brings women together through a common thread.” Ghizlan Guenez
Guenez went on to suggest that globally, a large percentage of women dress modestly, across faiths and backgrounds, yet not one platform can speak to them with relevance in the luxury space. Thus for the first six months of development, Guenez dedicated her time to researching and talking to women, in order to understand their needs, frustrations, and preferences.
She also discovered that marketers and brands continue to uphold generalised misconceptions of modesty, noting, “it is still not necessarily something that is known or well understood," adding that when it is known, "it’s not necessarily perceived in the right way – for them it’s a very specific look, woman, and religion.” This added more fuel to Guenez's pursuit, challenging herself to create a space that could encourage a fresh and meaningful understanding of this concept.
Referring to The Modist’s recent collaboration with rising It model, Halima Aiden - a Somalian refugee and the first Hijabi to walk the runway - Guenez stressed that they would continue to work with models and women who wear the Hijab, as well as women across age groups and sizes: "The premise of The Modist is to create an inclusive platform that is beyond just the commercial – a place that champions diversity and brings women together through a common thread."