Zahra Aljabri, the founder of women's fashion label Mode-sty, which focuses on conservative yet stylish items shares her entrepreneurial words of wisdom.
Fashion goes in cycles and what’s hot now is bound to come back around again before too long. To a certain degree, this makes it easy to identify patterns and predict trends within the sector. However, it also means that examples of innovation can be hard to come by. This is what Zahra Aljabri noticed when she first explored the idea of setting up her company Mode-sty, a fashion label for women who prefer to wear more conservative clothing than you’d find on most high street rails, at an affordable price.
Working as a young attorney Zahra noticed that it was difficult to find fashionable clothes that she felt comfortable wearing. Most styles were too revealing or unflattering. Zahra realised that there must be many women who faced the same dilemma every day and decided to start catering for them. Convincing the fashion industry to change their perception of women’s fashion has been a challenge, but Zahra now feels that Mode-sty is providing a valued alternative. We quizzed Zarah about the first few months of getting Mode-sty off the ground.
1. Where did the idea for Mode-sty come from?
The idea began to take shape when my husband curiously asked me about why I got so excited when I found a cute, high-neck top. I explained to him that my shopping options were: a) Go to the mall and sift through thousands of items only to find a handful that meet my coverage requirements usually with limited style and fit, b) Buy things I like then layer or have it altered to get my desired coverage, or c) Shop at a ‘modest’ boutique and face a limited (usually vintage) selection or unflattering pieces. So whenever I was able to find something that met both my style and coverage requirements I felt it was a huge accomplishment! I knew that modest fashion shopping shouldn’t be this difficult! After some research, we realized that it was always difficult to find stylish modest apparel, but with the internet, the problem has become amplified: today, there are hundreds of fashion retailers online yet they all sell to virtually the same demographic: the fun and hip twenty-something. We also learned that most independent designers face a lot of uncertainty and risk when designing collections in their ateliers with little to no customer feedback. We figured we could help these designers by bringing them customers with clear needs to reduce their risk and generate predictable income. So, after nine months of discussion and research we made a decision to begin building Mode-sty!
2. Can you describe a typical working day?
No day is typical, and that’s what’s so exciting about running a start-up. The night before, I try to set a few tangible goals that I want to achieve the next day in addition to simply dealing with my day-to-day duties. Usually, I am woken up by my son, get him ready for daycare, then either my husband or I will drop him off. I spend a lot of time meeting with designers, buyers, and potential partners (bloggers, fulfillment companies, etc). I also have to keep our members enaged on social media.
3. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Mode-sty?
I try to spend as much time as I can with my 18 month old son, reading to him or taking him to the park. Also, my husband and I always try to have dinner together and watch something short on Netflix – we love the show ‘Parks and Recreations’!
4. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?
I think it’s constantly looking ahead at people who are where you want to be and pushing yourself to emulate them, execution-wise. But at the same time you need to be mindful of the broader trends to be ready to leap to the next “frontier” before you become irrelevant.
5. What drove you crazy when building your business?
I would say just learning how the fashion business operates. Fashion is one of the oldest industries and it can be hard to convince people to change their ways even if the alternative you are proposing is better. So it has been a long trust-building phase where we try to show respect to the industry while trying to gently question the status quo.
6. What motivates you to keep going?
The emails I get daily from women thanking me for starting Mode-sty. They, like myself, are fed up and frustrated by how difficult it is to find a fashionable and conservative outfit without the couture price-tag. I am always encouraged and grateful that thousands of women know that I have them in mind.
7. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would trust myself more. In the beginning all you really have is your instinct. You do market research, customer discovery, read industry publications and talk to potential mentors. But because what you’re doing is new, at the end of the day you have to go with what you think feels right and makes sense. In the beginning I second-guessed myself a lot and put too much weight on what others thought. I then learned that what I had thought was the better option. Going back I’d still do all the research but then I’d go with my gut.
8. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?
We want to become the premier destination for fashion-forward, conservative women. We want to re-imagine the way women shop for clothes on the internet and recreate the experience of shopping with a best friend. We’ll get there by gaining the trust of each and every woman that purchases a garment from us. We offer each womam the option that if she isn’t happy with the coverage, fit, or quality of the garment she can return it, no questions asked.
9. If you weren’t working on Mode-sty, what would you be doing?
Probably working on another startup!
10. Tell Springwise a secret…
Before starting Mode-sty, I’d never bought clothes online!
11. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Just a few months ago I was an ‘aspiring’ entrepreneur. Do your homework, find companies you like to emulate then take the plunge while minimising your (financial) risk as much as possible. You should focus your initial energies on finding a problem lots of people want to solve and find a way to solve it in an economically viable manner. In most cases, when you really think about it, you have little to lose! Worst comes to worst you’ll go back to what you’re doing today.
26th September 2012