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The Interview: Ghizlan Guenez, CEO and Founder, The Modist

Sadiyah Ismailjee
11 March 2020

The Modist is the very first international e-commerce platform to provide luxury modest fashion. Ghizlan Guenez launched the business in 2017 on International Women’s Day and started with 77 high-end and premium brands including Marni, Mary Katranzou, and Peter Pilotto.

Since its inception, The Modist has grown to now offer over 150 brands, with some collections designed in collaboration with fashion brands exclusively for its platform, and it also offers its own brand Layeur. Its aim is to provide stylish and on trend products for conservatively dressed consumers seeking luxury modest apparel.

Ghizlan Guenez tell us more:

Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

I was born and brought up in Algiers and left when I was around 10. I spent most of my life in the Middle East between the UAE and Lebanon and studied Business at the LSE in London. My first real job was in Private Equity where I spent 14 years, subsequent to which I shifted to founding The Modist. I live with my family (mother and siblings) in Dubai which has been home for the past 2 decades.

When did you launch The Modist and what was the initial response?

The Modist was launched on International Women’s Day in 2017. We turn three this year. The Modist carries so much authenticity and purpose which resonated with a large community of women who share common values with our brands. Our community is far and wide and extends from the Middle East to the US (the latter represents 35% of our sales).

The resonance that we received from media, the world of fashion, customers and beyond has been humbling and we couldn’t be happier with that. When we launched, there was hardly any conversation happening in the fashion space about modesty or inclusivity which is a core value of ours, afterall our women come from all backgrounds, religions and walks of life.

So in a way, The Modist had spearheaded the conversation on modesty and planted a stick in the ground to make space for this genre of fashion and more importantly to represent its woman beautifully in this space.

Did you Identify a gap in the market?

The Modist was launched from a personal experience having felt the frustration and alienation of shopping when you’re a modest dresser. It’s almost like the fashion space doesn’t recognise that this woman exists (in abundance!). The market is estimated in the tens of billions of dollars with no players in the luxury space so it was a no brainer to seize the opportunity especially given my knowledge of the customer and my own experience.

We wanted to create a destination that spoke to the modest dresser in a relevant manner and a space that curates fashion from global brands in a way that carries the modest sensibility and aesthetics, a space that provides style inspiration and one that shares content that celebrates our women and smashes stereotypes around modesty. More importantly, we wanted to create a brand that stands for values that are core to what we do such as our believe that a woman’s choice to cover or bear is her own and exercising that choice is empowering.

Could you tell us a bit about The Modist’s own label, Layeur?

Layeur, like The Modist, was built out of a gap. Curating across over 200 brands allows us the understanding of what exists in the market and by contrast what doesn’t. It was clear that there was a big gap for a brand that considers the modest dresser in everything that it designs and produces, every season. Layeur is a bi-product of our knowledge of our woman, what she’s looking for and our continuous engagement with our community.

Fitzgerald Printed Wide Leg Trousers & Pyjama Top

What is your current favourite piece from the collection and how do you wear it?

I love the Fitzgerald Pyjama Top and Trousers, these pieces are so versatile, comfortable and easy to wear. I would wear them together when I have a long day and then an event after work or separately for a more relaxed look.

What does modest fashion mean to you?

Modest fashion is a genre that has existed for as long as we have but it hadn’t been identified as that in the past. To me, modesty goes beyond what you wear and extends to your attitude and the way you carry yourself. Ultimately, modesty is a way of life.

Where is the modest fashion market currently heading?

I think with players like The Modist and brands that are emerging addressing this gap, in addition to the influencers who are increasingly making the conversation around modesty a ubiquitous topic on social media platforms, modest fashion is moving to a more known and (almost) mainstream. We have a long way to go but the more that we can spread knowledge about the woman the easier it becomes for fashion designers to consider her in the creations that they do.

Who is your modest fashion muse?

I don’t have one particular one. I meet women every day who dress modestly and they do so for various reasons… for some it is a style preference and a chic and elegant aesthetic and for others it is done for religious reasons. It’s also been a macrotrend for a few seasons so we’ve seen more modest red carpet looks than ever before I believe.

What is the future for The Modist?

We’re a young but very ambitious startup and growth is in our future. We continue to understand our customer and evolve the shopping experience to satisfy her, and most importantly, we continue to engage with and grow our amazing community of women with whom we share common values.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own fashion business?

Make sure that this is something that you are passionate about and that you love. Solve a problem or bring a solution that adds value to the customer’s life. Understand the space really well, do your homework and know the industry and the players and most importantly the customers. Finally, be resilient and have grit for the journey ahead.

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