I met Zahra at the Giant Steps conference and immediately new I wanted to share her amazing story. She’s a smart, savvy businesswoman with a vision of creating an online shopping destination for women who prefer to dress modestly, and her site, Mode-sty, is well on its way. Let’s hear from Zahra!
Can you give me a little background on your schooling and career path?
I grew up in a a suburb of Los Angles in southern California. I attended UCLA where I received my undergraduate degree in mass communication with a mathematics minor. I then attended law school at Syracuse University College of Law in New York. I worked for a local nonprofit organization as a civil rights advocate and also had an estate planning practice. In both roles, I had to essentially grow a small business.
I moved to Minneapolis in 2008 after I finishing law school and getting married to my husband who was working on his Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Minnesota. However, Minneapolis is where my “entrepreneur self” was born! I started two companies* here in the Twin Cities, as well as my private law practice. Minneapolis has quickly become home, with many wonderful and supportive friends and mentors as well as my son (almost 2!) being born here.
What inspired you to launch Mode-sty?
As a Muslim woman, I made the choice of dressing conservatively when I started college. Ever since then, it has been a struggle to uphold my values and my sense of style. The majority of retailers simply neglect women like myself by producing overly revealing designs (backless, see-through, sleeveless, etc.) As a result, conservative women are at a disadvantage because they have to spend significantly more and money to find anything much less something stylish. My husband who has entrepreneurial experience then helped take the first steps in determining if this was a viable idea and if we had a sufficiently large market. A few months later, we co-founded Mode-sty and have received tremendous support from thousands of women worldwide!
How would you describe the site to someone who has never heard of it or visited it before?
Mode-sty is an online boutique that caters to stylish conservative women. We offer a selection that builds a beautiful modest wardrobe for every occasion and ever modesty level.
When did the site launch? At what point will you move from Beta/pop-up to full-use?
We had our first beta “pop-up” store at the end of July and we’ve had several more since then. We are using these pop-up stores as experiment to learn more about our customer and refine our business model. We are currenlty planning for a mid-2013 full launch.
Do you have a background in fashion or merchandising?
No, so I have immersed myself with designers, manufactures and trend setters. I spend a lot of time reading and talking to fashion insiders to be on top of everything that is currently happening in the fashion industry.
Who makes up your customer base?
The largest portion of our customers are women who really value dressing modestly for religious reasons. To these women the first factor they consider when shopping for clothing is: “will this garment give me the coverage I need”. We also have many customers who want more modest yet stylish options for professional reasons. In both cases our customers are very frustrated by the time, effort and compromised style they face when they shop.
Why do you think so many women are seeking less revealing clothing options?
I think that we are seeing such an interest in Mode-sty from all types of women because the vast majority of big brands and designers are all targeting the same demographic: the fun and hip twenty-something. Just check the homepage of brands like Zara, Mango, JCrew or online retailers like ShopBop, Gilt and you’ll see the same model smiling out at you. Therefore, even if you are not particularly conservative, there aren’t many alternatives to what every other brand is selling. Furthermore, with the rise of style blogs and particularly modest fashion blogs many women see examples of ways to be trendy and stylish without sacrificing their values. Thus instead of feeling like you have to choose to either be stylish or dress modestly now many women a looking for options where they don’t have to choose.
What’s your best-selling item?
Our peplum little black dress: trendy, provides great coverage, flatters the figure, and can seamlessly go from a work to an evening outfit with some accessorizing. (Shown here, dress is Canadian designer Jessica Rose.)
Any plans to open a brick-and-mortar store?
At the moment our sole focus is to grow online.