The G Force of Arab Fashion

One year after the closure of The Modist, FTA catches up with its founder, Ghizlan Guenez

In March 2017, The Modist launched, and this Dubai-based luxury e-commerce company overnight became the global poster child for modest dressing, with its young and stylish founder Ghizlan Guenez seen as the face of modern Arab retailing in the fashion industry. Until its closure at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020, Guenez was the most “covered” Arab woman in fashion by international publications. Looking at luxury fashion through the lens of modesty – something many Arab women had been craving – The Modist drove forward a worldwide conversation on a woman’s choice to dress in a more covered style. With clients from New York’s Brooklyn to India’s Hyderabad, Guenez’s e-tail company proved that modesty is a way for life for many women.

It wasn’t just about style either – the math also made sense, as Guenez’s research found that the modest fashion market was set to reach $484 billion by 2019. The Modist launched with a selection of over 75 leading ready-to-wear and accessories brands such as Marni, Alberta Ferretti, Christopher Kane and Mary Katrantzou. Also included were homegrown designers such as Bouguessa, Taller Marmo, Sarah’s Bag and Nathalie Trad. With over 10 years of experience in private equity, it seemed Guenez had found a stylish sweet spot that had a lot of potential – and with one her investors being Farfetch, her story was one that made everyone in Middle Eastern retail proud.

Though there had been murmurs in the industry that The Modist despite its high growth has its own set of struggles, no one expected the news that it was going to permanently close – even those working in the company. “It was a high-growth business, and so it was dependent on fundraising,” says Guenez. “Being a young company and following that strategy meant that we were not self-sustainable. We had almost closed a new round of funds, but Covid-19 meant our main investor had to pull out given its impact.” The announcement was made on The Modist’s Instagram handle in early April 2020. “It was a difficult decision, closing a business we started with a heart and purpose for the wrong reasons,” says Guenez. The luxury e-tailer was one of the first regional companies to take a “digital first” approach to luxury retail, launching before Ounass. “It is about moving with the consumers for retailers,” says Guenez, “and today digital is where many of the consumers are.”

As a respected Middle Eastern woman entrepreneur, Guenez’s voice is just as important today as it was when The Modist was still operating. An early believer in the audio-based social media app Clubhouse, she has launched two rooms on the app, “G Force” and “The Real F Word.” She addresses issues that would interest other working women. “Listening is true engagement, there is nothing like being captured in conversation,” she says. And for fashion, this former founder believes dialogue has bever been so important. “At this time of transition fashion needs to be about more than an image, it needs to converse.” She sees Clubhouse becoming a strong tool for messaging and storytelling in the industry.

Guenez’s strong activity on social media suggests that she will be back in mainstream fashion very soon. The good news is that Guenez does not believe that her journey in modest fashion is over, and she says she does have something up her sleeve. “Of course, I would love to see The Modist make a comeback, but if that happens then it would be in a new format given the benefit of hindsight.” She adds that modest dressing is not a trend, it is a lifestyle choice, so it will always have a role to play in the global fashion industry. For this style savvy businesswoman, a new chapter is about to start.