This week, a look at the modest fashion market, including new retail investments and recently shuttered stores. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
American Dream’s modest fashion mega-store
On February 14, New Jersey mega-mall American Dream will open the doors to The ADdress, a multi-brand store focused on modest fashion that will eventually span 55,000 square feet. The space was formerly leased by off-price retailer Century 21, which declared bankruptcy and moved out before the shopping center’s official opening post-pandemic lockdowns.
The ADdress concept was developed by the center’s owner, Triple Five Group, with the first two letters of its name pointing to its “American Dream” home. A spokesperson for American Dream, who called it “the first modest clothing department store,” said the retailer will open with 35 brands, all of which are renting space via individual leases. American Dream will staff the store, provide a shared checkout experience and facilitate a loyalty program. February 14 will mark The ADress’s “phase one” opening, with the debut of just one floor of the planned two-floor space. Phase two will introduce modest bridal wear plus a dedicated home goods section, while phase three will expand the offerings to menswear and more children’s clothes.
A 3.3 million-square-foot, $5.5 billion development, American Dream has been plagued with challenges since breaking ground. Originally called Xanadu, a series of developers failed to get it off the ground, and the project sat in limbo for years. Mall of America owner Triple Five Group took ownership in 2011, orchestrating a grand plan of an entertainment-heavy shopping center, inclusive of ski slopes, an ice rink and a water park. Its scheduled reveal, 17 years in the making, aligned with the height of the pandemic, not only delaying timelines but also forcing shakeups in secured tenants. It finally opened in October 2020.
After reportedly missing several debt payments, Triple Five Group cut a deal with JPMorgan in November to secure breathing room on debt payments through 2016. Just this week, it was reported that American Dream failed to make a semi-annual, $8.8 million interest payment due Wednesday. In an emailed statement to Glossy, American Dream said it is “not responsible” for making this payment to the bond trustee. It’s instead made by the state, following a review and certification process.
Like Century 21, Barneys New York, which had taken over bankrupt Lord & Taylor’s planned space, shuttered before launching at the mall. Set to be housed across Tiffany & Co., the 50,000-square-foot space remains vacant. “I have some tasty prospects that are interested in that location,” Ken Downing, then chief creative officer of Triple Five Group, told Glossy in July 2021 — he left the company last year. According to the spokesperson, American Dream is currently at 85% occupancy. Since 2022, stores that have expanded their footprint within the shopping center have included Saint Laurent, now occupying a 7,000-square-foot, two-floor space. For more than two years, the location now occupied by The ADdress was rented out as an event space, hosting various camps and trade shows.
According to the spokesperson, The ADdress’s modest clothing focus was driven by the category’s “global boom in mainstream fashion in recent years,” as well as the desire to better serve American Dream’s diverse community. “The modest fashion consumer is really underserved in brick-and-mortar stores,” she said.
In 2021, spending on modest fashion increased 5.7% year-over-year, to $295 billion, according to the 2022 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report. The category was expected to grow another 6% in 2022, with $170 million of sales driven by markets outside of the Middle East and Africa.
American Dream announced The ADdress’s opening in a customer email on Wednesday. That also promoted an opportunity to attend a meet-and-greet with the brands’ founders and grab “swag” on opening day. The day before, it will host an “ultra-exclusive” VIP party, providing modest fashion influencers and other fashion insiders a preview of the store, the spokesperson said. In addition, it will advertise the store in several print magazines targeting “demographics that will appreciate this type of store.” A dedicated Instagram account, @theaddress_americandream, launched on December 1 and has since been introducing included brands, some with videos of founders sharing their excitement to sell in-store. According to the spokesperson, The ADdress is at capacity, and American Dream has turned away 150 brands wanting to sell at the store.
The ADdress’s brands span the spectrum, though the assortment is “built off a modest fashion” focus, the spokesperson said. They include brands specializing in modest clothes, like activewear-focused B7active, swimwear-focused Lamayim, and The Shell Station, offering layerable basics. There’s also ArtScroll, known for Orthodox Jewish literature. But in addition, shoppers will find footwear brands, jewelry brands, childrenswear brands, home decor brands and a luxury resale company, ReTheRun, all without a clear modest tie. Out of the gate, Tal Headwear, which formerly leased a full storefront in the shopping center, will sell its signature knit beanies and baseball caps, but not hijabs.
Based on the Instagram videos, The ADdress will serve as the first brick-and-mortar presence for many of the brands. American Dream approached them about the opportunity, and several will offer exclusive products not sold on their e-commerce site. Many are located in the NYC area and are encouraging their own Instagram followers to visit the store. Their Instagram followings are comparatively small, with few exceeding 30,000.
The state and future of modest fashion
Availability of modern, modest-specific fashion brands and retailers currently lacking in the U.S., according to those who know it well. As such, fashion influencers specializing in videos on how to wear current styles in modest ways have gained large followings. The hashtag #modestfashion currently has 2.7 billion views on TikTok.
But increasingly, fashion companies have leaned into the opportunity, to various levels of success. Many, from Mango to Louis Vuitton, have released capsule collections for religious holidays including Ramadan. Meanwhile, others, including Nike and Adidas, have come out with permanent modest collections. There’s also been more awareness around modest fashion, with various Modest Fashion Weeks gaining press coverage. Likewise, NYFW: The Shows has hosted several modest fashion shows. Lori Riviere, who’s co-organized those shows, said she replicated the model at London Fashion Week in September. On February 13, she’ll co-produce NYFW’s Indonesia Now show, which will focus on modest fashions by Indonesian designers.
Perhaps one of the best-known local sources for modest fashion shopping and inspiration was The Modist, the multi-brand luxury e-tailer and content site first launched in 2017. In April 2020, it closed down, which founder Ghizlan Guenez owed at the time to challenges with the company’s wholesale business model. In July of last year, publications including Vogue Business reported that The Modist was back, armed with new funding and newly leveraging a marketplace model, starting with a relaunch in the Middle East. A site for the U.S., which drove 35% of the original business, was set to follow. But at the same time, Guenez and co-CEO Hajar Ouhsine announced the launch of Queen Mode Labs, a separate business focused on web3 and NFTs that they spun as a “community builder” for The Modist shoppers. And it seems they’re now focused on that venture.
TheModist.com is not currently selling products; visitors are greeted with a message stating, in part, “We are working on enhancing your shopping experience and ensuring that you have a seamless and inspiring journey.” The Modist’s last Instagram featuring an item for sale on TheModist.com was posted in September. Its Instagram bio now calls the company a “destination for IRL and digital fashion.” Recent posts provide a definition of “phygital” and describe different ways influential brands have shown up in the metaverse. Guenez did not respond to requests for comment.
According to modest fashion influencer Leena Snoubar (1.3 million Instagram followers), based on its description, The ADdress is filling a white space.
Self-described on her blog as “a Muslim American/Palestinian girl living in Texas,” Snoubar said there’s a “shortage” in the variety of modest styles available and that a convenient, multi-brand retailer for modest fashion “doesn’t exist.” She typically shops H&M, Mango and Amazon for casual, everyday clothes. For special occasions, she prefers to shop smaller brands specializing in modest fashion, as they offer maxi dresses, for example, with more coverage and looser silhouettes.
Snoubar said her following across YouTube, Instagram and TikTok is global and largely made up of women in their 20s and 30s. In fall 2020, she released a collection with Amazon’s The Drop, which sold out in 30 hours. A follow-up collection will land in spring. She said that, while she had never shopped The Modist, it was because her followers prefer to see more affordable styles. She regularly shops online, she said, noting that she’s mastered reading sizing charts.
This summer, a new online modest fashion marketplace will roll out, dubbed The Reflective. Founder Liza Sakhaie said it was born out of a modest fashion-focused newsletter of the same name, which she started two years ago. It goes to 2,500 people four days a week, and has a 50% open rate. Newsletters center on shopping features, like “The Valentine’s Day Edit” or “27 Mango Dresses on Sale,” she said.
While The Reflective is “not religiously affiliated,” its readers are typically Jewish or Christian, with many residing in New York, L.A., Miami or the Midwest. Many prefer to avoid “styles marked up for the modest shopper,” knowing they can get “the same thing, from Zara or H&M,” Sakhaie said. But they do shop “high-low,” purchasing styles across The Reflective’s $50-$1,200 range.
The Reflective will launch with 25 brands, including modest-specific brands, spanning styles from classic to edgy. Most are international ready-to-wear brands, while shoes, jewelry and head coverings will also be sold. Sakhaie said she has no immediate plans to open a store, but believes “IRL [shopping] is back.” She’s been leaning into that via pop-up shops incorporating panel discussions on modest fashion, to fuel The Reflective’s community.
A store offering “modest high fashion at accessible price points” is missing from the market, she said, adding: “The [multi-brand] retailers that exist are typically based in the Middle East and less accessible for the U.S. consumer.” The Modist is based in Dubai.
Though 7-year-old Batsheva didn’t originally brand itself as a modest fashion brand, a large percentage of its styles have always fit the criteria. As such, modest dressers have come to champion the brand, and Batsheva has come to cater to them. For example, the subject of the brand’s January 31 customer email featuring four calf-length dresses read, “A focus on modest dressing.”
Founder Batsheva Hay said shoppers in search of modest fashion visit her studio in NYC’s Garment District every day, often in groups. They regularly express their excitement about being able to find “more than two things” they can buy in a boutique setting, as that typically requires a trip to a department store.
“It’s smart to cater to this niche shopper, because they have really specific needs,” she said. “Once you gain their trust, they’re very loyal. You become like a personal shopper, because you have this [perfect] edit for them.’
She theorized that The Modist may not have worked because the modest dresser values trying things on IRL, to assure adherence with Muslim or Jewish modesty “codes.” As such, she said, she’s “very much looking to open a store.” And she’d consider selling at The ADdress, which she hadn’t heard about.
“I’ve heard from buyers that people want to be sexy again after the pandemic,” she said. “So the trends are generally against modest fashion. But there’s always going to be a modest fashion customer.”
This story was updated on February 6 with American Dream’s response to the reports of its late interest payment.
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