Founded on International Women’s Day in 2017, the Modist, one of the pioneers e-retailer platform for Modest fashion based in Dubai, took a bow from its audience on April 2nd  by announcing its closing via a post on the social media.  As the company stated in a message shared both by the e-commerce platform and its founder Ghizlan Guenez, “It is with a heavy heart we share with you that The Modist is permanently closing its virtual doors today. After three incredible years of creating a global business and platform that empowers women, celebrates their choices and breaks stereotypes, we regret to inform you that the global crisis that has hit the world has left our young business vulnerable with no option but to cease operating.”

the Modist has been the only and unique e-commerce platform offering a high-end/ premium range of Modest dresses. Only one year ago the exclusive luxury e-retailer dedicated to foster the Modest movement  secured important investments from Annabel investment holding lead by Nicola Bulgari and e-commerce platform Farfetch and ranked among the most innovative companies of 2020 in the Middle East by US platform Fast Company.

Amid the global health crisis , this episode makes a point for a reflection : where Modest fashion is going ?

The Modist made its name  'cause it helped to raise up awareness towards Modesty as a high-class style. If it 's true that a large part of its customer base are Muslim and not Muslim women from US , UK and the Gulf region, with a a concrete spending power , this base doesn't represent the average Modest fashion consumer. This latter can be a Muslim or not, veiled or not, living in the Gulf, in the Uk, France, Italy, South Africa, Indonesia, Australia. What does this woman look for when shopping Modest clothes? We can argue style, elegance, comfort, beauty , affordability in terms of price , compliance with a set of values mirrored in her lifestyle. From this brief portrait , these women might not look for premium brands all the time , but rather for ready to wear in boutiques or e-commerce platform based in the country or with a popular name.

Since a few years big companies such as Net-a-Porter, Moda Operandi, Asos, Uniqlo started intercepting the Modest segment , by opening a "Modest offer"  , since words such as diversity and inclusion have found home in many companies ' CSR vocabulary .  However for these actors Modest fashion stays as a minority, while chez the Modist it was the core business. They were not moved in depth by a mission of empowering a community, breaking misinformation and give evidence of talents, but only by a mere demand-offer game.  Browsing around , someone argued a process of "cannibalization" by Non -Modest players in a field where theModist was almost alone at a very first instance. For example, last March Net-a-Porter launched a Ramadan Edit collection by including premium brands and almost standing to much close to theModist's offer.

The Modest movement has been possible thanks to a plethora of designers who fought to bring to life a suitable style for their needs. Most of them are small businesses run by solo entrepreneurs and with no marketing /advertising and communication investments as a big fashion player.

Consider the example of Nike Pro Hijab for sport. Nike was not exactly the very first company to introduce such a type of sporty hijab - as far as the high technology involved maybe yes- but do you know that other small and probably not so well known brands got firstly the idea on the market ? Communication counts as a milestone and if you can broadcast your product worldwide, you know the outcome already.  As stated in the latest State of the Global Islamic Economy Report by Thomson Reuters, the global Modest fashion market was evaluated around $480 billion last year , so not a surprise that big fashion companies all of a sudden turned their attention to it.

The Modest fashion movement found back its root not in the launching of the Modist platform, but long time before thanks to organisations and personalities who strived for it. To name a few, Islamic Fashion and Design Council ( IFDC) based in Dubai which helped to analyze, spread and understand the Modest market and Think Fashion Co, lead by fashion entrepreneurs Franka Soeria and Ozlem Sahin who launched a few years ago Modest fashion weeks event series, with successful Modest runways in Istanbul , London, Jakarta, Dubai and Amsterdam where they made people aware of a long list of brilliant designers .  

If nowadays we can talk about a Modest movement is thanks to those kind of players and mostly to a powerful community of women worldwide who embraced the conversation with a feeling of belonging. Looking at another example of how identity and inclusion matters, in 2018 the US retailer Macy's decided to host on its website the modest brand Verona Collection  in order to empower Muslim fashion offer during Ramadan time. Macy's gained trust and appreciation  by Muslim women because the community felt acceptance ,  alignment with their needs and they could shop from a popular , even historical, shopping online destination where they have the right space finally. When theModist sold premium brands through Farfetch , at which degree did Modest consumers feel this shopping experience ? Without doubt the Modist was able to create its own strong community which has always expressed all its appreciation for such a courageous venture in breaking Modest faux stereotypes .

What the next so? We have to keep in mind that Modest fashion is carrying on by designers, such creative minds with the mission to dress people who want to look Modest and to buy in respect with a set of values, such as a valuable production, sustainable supply chain, organic fabrics ( no leather and no alcool treatment ) . In this sense we can say that Modest fashion has always been related to sustainability, its part of the DNA. Those creative minds are located everywhere worldwide and and some of the are in need of the right tools and fuel to communicate, to get investment and to manage a real enterprise and to be ready to respond to their customers. In Modest there is a huge sense of female empowerment, support, sharing and one next step in the industry is to foster small brands to be part of a chorus line .


Photo cover by Rana Sawalha on Unsplash