According to marketing firm MLC Media, the modest fashion apparel segment is poised to reach $360 billion globally over the next two years. For the online marketplace The Reflective, the growth trajectory of modest fashion served as the impetus behind launching the company in fall 2020.
The Reflective is eyeing expansion by taking a traditional interfaith customer base of Muslim, Jewish and Christian consumers and “removing religion from the equation and making modesty mainstream,” the company said. Here, Liza Sakhaie, founder and chief executive officer, and Danielle Immerman, chief marketing officer, discuss the company, market trends and insights into what’s driving modest fashion.
WWD: What was the reason behind founding The Reflective?
Liza Sakhaie: I began dressing modestly (more conservatively) later in life, after nearly a decade of working in the fashion industry. At the time, I was working on the experiential retail marketing team at Bloomingdale’s, conceiving of new ideas to capture customers in innovative and interactive ways, and yet, in my own modest shopping experience, it felt like no one was doing much to try to capture me.
Furthermore, having grown up in an Iranian Jewish household, the stereotypes around modesty penetrated my relationship with clothing, and as I started to change the way I dressed, I noticed how many other women still thought a modest dress code was oppressive, archaic, frumpy and restrictive.
So I launched The Reflective in order to change the way women feel about modesty by empowering them to see fashion as an external expression of individual values. Our mission is to provide an elevated and attainable product curation while empowering our community through engaging and educational content, events and evolving experiences for the modern modest woman.
WWD: What do you think is driving growth in the modest fashion segment?
Liza Sakhaie and Danielle Immerman: In the last five years, fashion publications have started to take notice of women’s desires for more coverage in their day-to-day wardrobe. The initial uptick in demand coincided with the #MeToo movement, suggesting a correlation between fashion and wanting to feel protected. Whether it was for faith, work, comfort, body image or even safety related-reasons, data showed that midi skirts were replacing miniskirts and turtlenecks were outdoing V-necks.
Furthermore, the Muslim population has always had the largest impact on the modest fashion industry, as they are the biggest group of modest dressers. In recent years, as the Muslim Millennial population, otherwise known as Generation M, have greatly brought up the projected size of the modest fashion industry — as they begin taking positions in the workplace rather than staying at home — they have a larger disposable income to spend on clothes.
Outside of the general increase in women wanting to dress modestly, the pre-existing population of modest women is growing increasingly tired of the lack of options. As consumers increasingly turn to e-commerce as opposed to brick-and-mortar, modest women are left without many digital options. The Modist served as temporary solace, addressing the need for a user-friendly, accessible and on-trend curation of modest finds, but the UA-based retailer was forced to shutter in 2020, leaving no alternative other than spending hours scouring Bloomingdale’s, Shopbop, Revolve and the likes for modest fashion finds.
WWD: And what do consumers of this segment expect?
L.S. and D.I.: Consumers expect optionality and convenience above all else. Modest women, first and foremost, require optionality in their shopping experience. Retailers and brands are missing the mark on this multibillion-dollar market because they merely lack an understanding of the modest consumer. She isn’t one type of woman, she’s many.
Within faith-based modesty alone, you have varying degrees of definitions and requirements. Muslim women require a selection of looser-fitting pants, tunics and hijabs while Christian women won’t wear pants at all, instead opting solely for below-the-knee skirts and dresses. Jewish consumers have their own varying levels of modesty, with some comfortable exposing elbows and collar bones while others are stringent on concealing at least an inch below the knee. The nuances of the modest consumer require optionality in not only modesty “levels” but also style. While there’s a surging demand for on-trend finds, the modest consumer also expects timeless basics and wardrobe essentials, further emphasizing the need for optionality and diversity in curation.
In tandem with curation optionality, the modest consumer expects convenience; they want to spend less time finding clothes that meet their modesty requirements so the first solution to that need is curating what they need on one platform like our marketplace. Secondly, convenience comes by way of offering the modest consumer clothes they can purchase without spending more time or money altering them to be more modest. The convenience of purchasing an item that needs no adjusting is an expectation modest consumers have when shopping on an exclusively modest site.
WWD: How would you describe your target customer?
L.S. and D.I.: Our target customer is a 20- to 36-year-old woman who has been dressing modestly her whole life or recently chose to adopt a more modest way of dressing for faith, work, comfort, body image or even safety related-reasons. She’s someone who speaks fluent pop culture, meaning she gets what’s going on around her and doesn’t want to stand out just because she’s wearing maxiskirts. She wants to participate in the world around her and feel included. She looks to Arielle Charnas, Danielle Bernstein and Tezza for style inspiration but struggles to find a way to adapt their outfits in a modest way. She’s tired of spending time looking for cute modest clothes and is struggling to access her personal style in a way that still aligns with her modesty standards.
WWD: What informs the merchandising and curation of The Reflective?
L.S. and D.I.: We launched in August 2020 as a content-based platform, building community and getting to know our consumers before expanding into e-commerce. We’ve spent the last year and a half getting to know our community members, which includes getting to know their wants and needs.
Curation is partly based on industrywide trends and seasonality, while an almost equal percentage of curation is based on addressing key pain points and strong needs within our community, including the need for easy modest dresses, modest activewear, modest swimwear and modest eveningwear.
WWD: What role does social media, content, and social commerce play in your business model?
L.S. and D.I.: We started as a community-first business and plan to continuously prioritize community above all else. Our community exists both on and offline, with our quarterly pop-up shops bringing our digital relationships to life in-person while our daily interactions are nurtured online through social media and our weekly newsletter. With a large percentage of modest women struggling to access practical ways to dress on-trend and modest, our social content provides an authentic, realistic and practical guide for how to take fashion-forward products and style them modestly.
What differentiates our content from modest influencers is the education and relatability; we’re your stylist and best friend, giving practical how-to’s while providing emotionally charged content that addresses the struggles and realities behind being a modest woman. It’s this type of content that is establishing us as your destination for all things modest — need help finding a wedding guest dress? Our marketplace has you covered. Need help styling skirts with tops? We have five-plus different Reels and TikToks for that. Not feeling modest enough or not sure what your modest standards are/should be? Check out our Instagram Lives with vulnerable modest women. It’s through building our strong and loyal community on social that we’re able to leverage social commerce, with nearly 66 percent of orders funneled through Instagram.
WWD: What’s next for The Reflective? What’s your vision for the future?
L.S. and D.I.: As we head into 2022, we’re very simply looking to grow and expand our community on a global scale. Our vision is to make modesty mainstream, becoming the Net-a-porter of modest fashion with content and community inspiring a modest lifestyle beyond just clothes.
While our short-term plans include expanding our reach, improving our marketplace experience, and even a potential line of modest wardrobe essentials, we have our eyes set on being known globally as the first touchpoint for modest fashion, whether you’re a brand attempting to expand into the market or a consumer looking to make a purchase.