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Style

Ghizlan Guenez: The Female Founder Proving Modest Fashion Can Be Fashion-Forward

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The fashion industry has always looked to stir up a little controversy with clothing — to find the cutting edge, and push the envelope over it just a bit. But after seasons of thigh-high slits and sheer fabrics, what counts as “cutting edge” anymore? Well, it seems that Ghizlan Guenez has found the answer with her platform The Modist, a Net-a-Porter-esque site that features modist, full-coverage, luxury pieces — a style that’s equal parts refreshing and fashion-forward.

This wasn’t the career that Guenez planned. But the former finance executive found herself frustrated with the limited (read: dowdy, boring) offerings traditional ecommerce sites offered for women like her — women who prefer to dress modestly for the aesthetic, and not necessarily for religious or cultural purposes. When she launched The Modist, she also launched a movement: one that champions a woman’s choice to wear whatever she damn well pleases.

Ahead, Guenez talks breaking stereotypes, redefining style, and the three wardrobe essentials every woman — conservatively dressed or not — needs in her closet.

Where do you live?

Dubai, UAE — though I spend a large amount of time in London, where we have an office.

Tell us a bit about your brand. What inspired you to venture into the fashion industry from finance?

The Modist is a luxury ecommerce fashion destination that was founded to offer women who choose to dress modestly across the world an elevated and relevant shopping experience. It entails cool and fashion-forward curation across 200 international designer and contemporary brands, inspiring styling and content through our online magazine, The MOD, that celebrates our women. We are a non-denominational platform that is built on values of diversity and inclusiveness, and one that empowers women by enabling them to exercise their choice to dress in the manner that they prefer.  

Prior to The Modist, I spent over 13 years in finance and built an exciting career which I never planned to change. The idea of The Modist came up as a result of the frustrating and time-consuming shopping experience that I and many women around me experienced. As modest dressers and lovers of fashion, finding a curation that is fashionable and cool, and that addresses relevant nuances such as long sleeves, long hems, and opaque fabrics, has always been challenging and alienating. Needless to say, modesty is heavily stereotyped as religious, dowdy, and boring — and at The Modist, we break every one of these stereotypes. Our growing community of women is diverse and dress modestly for various reasons, including simply loving the aesthetics. It’s been two years since our launch, and we couldn’t be happier with the resonance across our community of women globally, the fashion industry, and beyond.  

What sparked the idea to create a platform for modest fashion?

Frustration was the driver, given the a lack of a relevant destination for women like me who love fashion and modesty, and feel that they are not spoken to; coupled with my desire to show the world modesty for what it really is. It can be elegant, fashionable, and cool; and whilst many link it to a particular region or religion, one visit to TheModist.com dispels all that and shows the universal quality of modesty when done in a fashionable and elevated manner.

It’s a challenge that we took upon us, and we’re proud to see the fruits of already. We currently have 200 international designer and contemporary brands on the site who are all excited to be shown in a different light and who love the idea of The Modist being a bridge between them and a community of women who they haven’t spoken to in a meaningful manner in the past, and that’s just one of the ways in which we see those stereotypes around modesty dispelled.  We also launched our own brand, Layeur, last year, as a response to a gap in the market for a brand that considers the nuances of modesty in every aspect of its design — the response to it has been beyond our expectations.

Did you always know you wanted to be in the fashion world?

No. In fact, if you’d asked me five years ago I would have never thought I would be in this industry. I have, however, always loved fashion and been very passionate about it. I’d follow the fashion shows and get excited about the collections. I enjoyed it on a personal level, and despite a career in the conservative finance industry (fashionably speaking), I always found an appropriate way to express my love for it at work.

This is possibly why I started The Modist. I loved fashion too much to be excluded from it, and since no one offered me what I wanted, I decided to do it myself!

Walk us through a day in your life as a fashion entrepreneur.

It would be hard to describe a typical day. My role as an entrepreneur and a founder entails constant problem-solving and dealing with matters that arise on a daily basis, and that could change my entire day. I also travel very frequently across the fashion capitals for fashion weeks, as well as other countries where our markets are, in order be closer to our customer and understand her better. When I’m in Dubai, I start my day early to get to the office by 9am. I split my day between time with my team and external meetings. Unfortunately, I find it hard to do any “thinking” at the office, so I save that for the weekends. Lunch is generally at my desk and evenings vary, some are long and spent in the office and others are used as an opportunity to network or attend relevant industry and social events. The best thing about my days is seeing the energy of my team in the office and feeling the “buzz.” They’re an incredible bunch.

What is your source of inspiration?

I’m inspired by women and by our strength in general. I’m very inspired by female entrepreneurs forging through this space and building exciting businesses, and female activists fighting for human and women’s rights — but I’m equally inspired by a mother raising her children and trying to juggle the kids, the husband, home, and everything in between. We all are going about our own journeys, and each journey has its challenges and requires a lot of drive and strength along the way.

Your personal style is…

I appreciate all types of styles on people but I’m not adventurous — or rather, I tried it all in my early 20s and now I’m very aware of what works for me, and that gives me a lot of comfort and confidence. I would say my style is classic with an edge. I enjoy a pop of color, some accessorizing, and an elegant look in general. I’m also moody, and what I wear is a reflection of my mood. This is why I find packing a challenge and I often never wear my outfits as I intended to when I initially packed them.  

What is your beauty regime?

I’m a big beauty junkie and I really enjoy looking after my skin and makeup. My mom was an aesthetician, so I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I will always put the time in to follow my routine and I feel that looking after ourselves reflects on how we feel, so I put extra effort when I’m tired or down. There’s a trick for you!

In the morning I wash my face, use a toning lotion, essence, serum, moisturizer, and always SPF 50. At night I clean my face (I never sleep with my makeup on) and I put my night oil on. I also love facials and often do them myself at home.

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What’s been your most memorable moment from starting in the fashion industry?

There are a few and I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to have many highs in such a short period. What comes to mind first for me is always the people — and I’ve met some amazing ones over the last two years, including some who have become dear friends. Nothing is as valuable as that. Another one of my highlights is being included in the 2018 list of BoF500 (Business of Fashion), which is an honor.

What is your wardrobe nécessité?

Given that I can’t single one item out, I would say my wardrobe nécessité is to keep it neat and to never hold on to things that I don’t wear or use. I’m all about cleaning up every so often and giving things away. I dislike hoarding.

Name three staples all women should have in their wardrobe.

One, the perfect white shirt that you can wear at any occasion: at work with a suit, for an evening function with a ball skirt, and with jeans and flats on the weekend

Two, a good pair of jeans or denim with the perfect fit. We all have a pair from many years ago that are disintegrating in our wardrobe, yet we’d never let go of them

Three, an oversized, cozy, and comfy cashmere cardigan that you can wear when traveling, when you go for a walk, or at home.

What’s the best piece of advice you received when starting The Modist?

Don’t wait until you’re ready to start. Just do it.  

What advice would you give someone looking to open a boutique or begin a career in fashion?

For those wanting to start a career in fashion, I’d say do it for the right reason. If you’re passionate about it, then explore the industry further because it is vast with thousands of different jobs. Unfortunately, I find that most young people who want to be in fashion go towards a handful of jobs like styling, buying, or designing. The industry is much wider than that.

As for those wanting to open a boutique or start a business, I would say start with solving a problem. What is it that you are trying to solve? How are you different? Put the customer in the center of your business and build everything around her or him.  

Self care is a nécessité. What is your personal self care routine?

I’ve recently started putting the time and effort into looking after myself. Starting a business and entrepreneurship forces you to do that, otherwise the pressure is unsustainable. I read and listen to podcasts that help elevate the mind. I also started journaling recently, and I’m enjoying that. I practice hot yoga once or twice a week, and that is my form of meditation. It’s little steps here and there to support myself mentally, spiritually, and physically.

Photographer credit: Anna Nielson

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