The coronavirus pandemic has claimed its first modest fashion victim, after luxury online retailer The Modist closed permanently on Friday (Apr 3), blaming disruption caused by the virus for its decision.
Founded in Dubai in 2017 by Ghizlan Guenez, an Algerian former private equity executive, The Modist was the first high-luxury online retailer of modest fashion.
It would stock less-revealing garments by high-end brands like Alexander McQueen, and target well-heeled customers.
“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 said in a post on Instagram on Friday.
Salaam Gateway has reached out to Guenez.
Dubai-based designer Safiyah Abdallah, who knows The Modist’s founder, said she was saddened by the retailer’s closure. For some time it had been her goal to have her designs sold by the retailer.
“Seeing them close has dashed some hopes and changed some plans, however I respect Ghizlan and the team at The Modist so much,” Safiyah told Salaam Gateway.
“Ghizlan took a huge leap of faith and created a brand that left a mark in the minds of so many, whether they purchased from The Modist or just respected it, they took the world by storm, even if just for a short time.”
DIFFICULTIES FOR SOME TIME ALREADY?
Indonesian modest fashion consultant Franka Soeria said the retailer had been hampered by targeting the most expensive end of the market.
Its staff commanded high salaries, making cashflow difficult, and reports of difficulties had been circulating for some time, she told Salaam Gateway.
“They were mostly embracing mainstream fashion for modest fashion, not really the modest fashion brands themselves.
“I’m not sure if the luxury modest market is very big, to be honest. It’s a niche within modest fashion, which is a niche already,” said Franka, who is also co-founder of the Markamarie online store.
Rather, consumers want modest clothing that is affordable and ready to wear, and are paying less attention to mainstream brand names from London, Paris or New York.
“People are starting to be smart: style is very personal and I don’t think they want to buy expensive stuff. Just because something is the coolest in mainstream fashion, doesn’t mean it will be the coolest in modest fashion,” she added.
The modest fashion industry works independently of its conventional counterpart, and has its own distinctive approach. It is already full of designers and brands that are typically affordable and have gone on to become well known.
Among these, London-based Aab has two physical stores in the United Kingdom and an online boutique. Co-founder Altaf Alim told Salaam Gateway The Modist brand had been well executed.
"What they did visually I admired. I think they were trying to occupy a really interesting space, I don’t think anyone was trying to do modest fashion at a luxury level, at a super-luxury level.
“At the end of the day, it’s always sad to see another business not make it through. But these are difficult times,” he added.
Like The Modist, Aab’s online store is also being hurt by changing consumer habits caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with revenues running at half the normal level.
But what worries Aab’s co-founder Altaf Alim most is the outbreak’s proximity to Ramadan, which is traditionally modest fashion’s critical money-spinning period.
With movement restrictions in place in the UK, it looks like Ramadan will be spent at home for many, with bazaars and iftar gatherings banned. This means shopping for finery is no longer a priority for many Muslims.
“I think the pain is on its way because we won’t realise much from trading during Ramadan,” Altaf Alim told Salaam Gateway.
“People would start buying about a month beforehand, and that’s when you launch your campaigns and collections. Now it’s just weeks away, it’s effectively been put on pause. Let’s see how we navigate through this time.”
This has led to a period of reflection for some online modest fashion stores. As they are locked down, consumers are having more time to consider how they would spend their time and money. This may lead to a very different market.
In Jakarta, Soeria says retail brands need to raise their profile in preparation for when normality resumes by helping charity and relief efforts.
In Malaysia, for example, the Malaysian Official Designers’ Association has begun a project that is seeing designers sewing up hospital gowns to give to healthcare workers.
“It’s winning the hearts of the customers so it’s going to be good for them after all this COVID-19 is finished,” said Franka.
“And for many, this is a good time to fix their brand. We are being given a chance to sit down and see what’s wrong and make plans for the future.”
(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim [email protected])
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