The Modist, the barely-3-year-old luxury e-commerce platform that focused on modest fashion, is ceasing operations permanently, according to a note from founder Ghizlan Guenez posted on the company’s social media channels on Thursday.
While Guenez said the closure was due to the coronavirus crisis, a source close to the company said The Modist had cash-flow issues even before the pandemic occurred. When asked for comment on this last week, Guenez responded by simply saying, “Many businesses are going through very difficult times, and that includes our young business. At this stage, our focus is on the wellbeing of our employees.”
Founded on International Women’s Day in 2017, the Dubai-based company was one of the pioneers of the modest fashion movement and was particularly geared toward Muslim women. The Modist was named one of the most innovative companies in the Middle East by Fast Company last month.
According to Syama Meagher, founder and CEO of Scaling Retail, while The Modist helped to popularize the modest fashion trend, it failed to capitalize on that momentum. Larger fashion retailers, like Net-a-Porter, Asos, Zara and Matches Fashion, began releasing their own modest collections after The Modist launched, with Net-a-Porter launching in the same year as The Modist, in 2017.
While The Modist was based out of Dubai, 45% of its sales came from the U.S. and the U.K., areas where larger retailers already have strong sway. Meagher said part of The Modist’s problem was that it never went far enough to source interesting and unique brands.
“They showed there was a particular need in the market, but they didn’t offer something that a larger retailer couldn’t easily cannibalize,” Meagher said. The Modist launched with brands like Marni and Alberta Ferretti, while Net-a-Porter’s modest collection launched with buzzier Gucci. “It was so easy for someone like Net-a-Porter to come in and launch their own modest categories with big-name brands. And customers are already shopping on Net-a-Porter, so they might as well continue. I don’t think they had a good way to stand out.”
The Modist frequently worked directly with designers, advising them on the design process and how to appeal to the modest fashion customer, but this approach was also taken by Net-a-Porter. Net-a-Porter has ramped up its annual Ramadan edit each year, bringing in big brands like Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta via exclusive pieces designed specifically for the edit.
Last year, The Modist received an investment from Farfetch and began curating a modest edit on Farfetch, with an eye on growing the marketplace’s presence in the Middle East. As of the publication of this story, The Modist’s collection is still shoppable on Farfetch, but the company’s own site has been shut down.
The global modest fashion market was valued at around $480 billion last year, but The Modist’s revenue was likely somewhere between $3.5 million and $19 million, according to data around its investors Farfetch and Vaultier7. Net-a-Porter brought in close to $60 million in profits in 2017, for comparison.