What does it mean to be unapologetically modest? “To me, it’s taking ownership of your modesty,” said Zahra Aljabri, an observant Muslim, who, along with her husband, James, co-founded Mode-sty.com. It’s an online retailer specializing in modest fashions for women of all faiths, including women who don’t observe any religion at all. “It’s about saying ‘Yes, I do dress modestly.’ Because of the connotation around that word, there’s a tendency to resist it. History associates it negatively,” Aljabri said.
In the beginning stages of building her site, Aljabri spent a long time thinking about the language she’d use to target her audience. How could she attract a large cross-section of women without being too exclusive? Previously, she had ruminated over the word “coverage,” but then found her SEO goldmine.
“There’s no better word than modesty,” she declared. “If you dress that way, that’s what you’re searching for. That’s the go-to word to explain what you want.”
Balancing faith and fashion
After her site first launched, the feedback Aljabri got from customers cemented the site’s true mission. “What I learned early on from the emails I’d get from women was all about finding that personal balance between faith and fashion,” she said. “It was about feeling like you fit in and how much that really meant to women.”
One email she received was from a Christian woman, who stumbled onto the site via Google search. The woman wrote that she had engaged in a long, arduous search for a cute outfit with long sleeves to wear for engagement photos, but she had to settle for a skirt and a cardigan for the shoot. The outfit was sufficient, but [the experience] was mirthless. “There she was, marking a really important moment in her life… she didn’t even like how she looked in her photos,” remarked Aljabri. “If you never get to dress the way you truly want to, it can put a huge damper on your self-esteem.”
The writer was pleased to stumble upon Mode-sty.com, a place where she could find clothes that reflected her style and taste without compromising her faith. Before, she had to prioritize her desire to dress modestly over her desire to dress fashionably.
Aljabri’s goal in creating Mode-sty.com was to alleviate reservations, including her own, about dressing modestly. “It’s about reclaiming and refining the definition,” she said. “Not frumpy, not dowdy, matronly, bland, old-fashioned, oppressed, or repressed. In these modern times, there are modern, professional women who don’t view it that way. And, they don’t apologize for it! If you just get to know them, you will understand that’s not what it means.”
In addition to being a force for change in online retail, Aljabri maintains her own blog. There, she invites modest-dressing fashion bloggers and celebrities from around the world to share their favorite styles, voice their opinions about fashion, and forecast trends. She recently sat down with actress Mayim Bialik, who also dresses modestly, to discuss assumptions and stereotypes as well as finding empowerment in dressing modestly.
Aljabri also writes for the popular fashion and lifestyle site, Refinery29. Her features on Refinery29 serve as a window into the community of women who dress modestly. For example, she writes about fashion during holy times of the year for Muslim women, a widely popular topic.
Beautiful and conservative
“My goal is really to just have beautiful clothes that cover what you want to be covered,” Aljabri stated. “My primary focus is to offer beautiful and stylish pieces. The secondary priority is coverage.”
Aljabri’s site caters to women whose preferences call for varying levels of modesty. She’s casting a wide net because she wants to draw a large audience, hoping to “become the ‘ModCloth’ of modest fashions!”
For like minded fashionistas, or anyone who supports freedom of choice in lifestyle, meet the powerful writer and advocate on Saturday, December 3, during a presentation and fashion show at Christ the King Parish.
Modesty: A Reflection of True Beauty
A Modest Fashion Show and Presentation by Zahra Aljabri, Founder of Mode’sty*
2pm on Saturday | December 3 | 4100 Harvest Ln.
Admission: Non-perishable food item or package of diapers.