Female Founder Feature – Annabel John, Modestwist

Annabel John, Founder and CEO of fashion start-up Modestwist, is on a mission to make modesty mainstream and cater for a market that has remained underserved within the fashion marketplace for the past decade. With Modestwist recently selected as ‘Top 36 Global start-ups of 2019’ by Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund and the modest fashion market forecast to reach $360bn by 2021. It’s safe to say modest fashion is finally making its mark.

Tell us about your company. What inspired you to start it?

Modestwist is an online fast-fashion retailer catering for Muslim millennials across the globe. Customers can shop the latest fashion trends and seasons must-haves direct from our website straight to their doorstep. All products are below $60 and remain within the parameters of the Muslim faith. The Muslim population is set to rise from ‘1.6 billion to 2.8 billion by 2050’, making this one of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing consumer groups. Despite this, fashion brands and high street retailers continue to neglect this demographic, resulting in female Muslims struggling to find everyday apparel. Witnessing this first hand when going clothes shopping with my friends and sisters who are Muslim, I decided I had to try and solve this problem, which led to the idea of Modestwist.

Who are your cofounders and what makes you a great team?

My co-founder is my brother Joshua Johnson who is based in Seattle and is a digital marketing specialist, he is also the founder of two tech start-ups and the main engineer of our team. Sometimes you hear horror stories of families working together on a business, but it has been the latter for us. His taught me so much about e-commerce, customer acquisition and coding which has allowed us to gain more than 1000+ pre-sign-ups within the space of 3 weeks. We also have a small team of fashion buyers who have been instrumental in developing our clothing collections.

How is your company making a difference?

Muslim millennials want the same access to affordable fast-fashion as conventional shoppers and not limited to ‘one-of collections’ that are often based upon a stereotype. The majority of modest fashion brands only offer more traditional styled Islamic wear as abaya’s and kaftans, whilst others solely focus upon hijabs. Nobody is really rolling up their sleeves and addressing the problem at heart which is the lack of fashion options available for the younger Muslim generation, who have become more fashion-savvy than ever. If fashion brands want to keep neglecting this market then I will rise up to the challenge and become the game-changer.
Very rarely do you see brands including Muslim women within their marketing campaigns, Modestwist promises to make sure female Muslims across the globe no longer feel neglected or forgotten about within the fashion marketplace. Our companies ethos are founded upon women empowerment, diversity and inclusion.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

The modest fashion market is still relatively untapped and therefore access and support within this industry is scarce, I think in time this will change. I’ve spent the past year traveling across the globe working with fashion distributors and manufacturers to start working on Modestwist. The majority of people I met within the textile industry had no idea this market existed which in turn made it harder to find suitable vendors. Setting up an effective logistics and shipping system has proved challenging especially when working with our suppliers in Turkey. I had to end up flying out to Istanbul and working with the locals to try and get this solution sorted. I try however not to view things as challenging but moreover an opportunity to learn something new and solve a problem.

What is your biggest win?

Being selected as ‘Top 36 Global start-ups of 2019’ by ALIBABA entrepreneurs fund out of 600 other companies and flying to Hong Kong to pitch to investors and meet Director Cindy Chow who did a live TV interview with us has been a huge win for us. I think am still in shock, I never thought we would make it to the last round and end up going to Hong Kong. It was definitely the boost we needed to make Modestwist go from the idea/MVP stage into the potential of dominating the modest fashion industry.  Wins like these have helped me stay motivated and the exposure alone from the event has led to a number of opportunities and collaborations.

Who is your role model?

My parents, they have been super supportive of me starting my business and words can’t describe how thankful I am for their ongoing support. From a young age, I always admired my father’s work ethic, ability to run his own companies and enjoy what he does. I always told myself that I wanted to be as successful as him, he always schooled us on the importance of passive income and starting a business to help others. He’s been so supportive of me and my brother starting Modestwist and continues to encourage us to keep at it and never give up. Having a father who you can relate to about the dynamics of starting a business is super cool, it’s like whenever I stumble upon a problem he will usually laugh and say ” I experienced the same issue when I started my business’. Its that’s constant reassurance from him that keeps me grounded.

What do you wish you had known before starting your company?

To enjoy the entrepreneur journey, the highs, lows, wins and losses. I think as entrepreneurs we tend to place so much pressure on ourselves that we forget to embrace the journey and realize great things take time to build. Starting a business can be a very lonely journey as nobody is going to be as passionate about your vision more than you, but as long as you keep working at it, the hard work will always pay off.

What is your CEO super power?

I am fearless, a huge risk taker and see no limits to what I can achieve. Did I also mention am a full-time optimist?

What has been your experience with FFA?

FFA really go above and beyond to help female founders across the globe succeed in their businesses and provide specialist support to reach the next milestone. The amount of resources and support I have received from FFA  in such a short period of time has been phenomenal.  I was amazed at how much they want to help and support you, and even match you to to the right mentors and investors no matter what stage your at within your business model. Am looking forward to being a part of such a strong network of female entrepreneurs who are doing amazing things across the globe. Thank you, FFA for finally providing a strong network for females entrepreneurs to be apart of and being the voice of change for how female-founded companies are represented and funded! I can’t wait for the amazing things FFA will do for women in business in years to come!

Anything else you want people to know?

Annabel is also a former commercial model, having graced billboards and television commercials for some of the world’s leading brands, including Virgin Media, Adidas, Heineken, Barclays Bank, British Airways, Sony, BBC, and PayPal. The 28-year-old has also featured in publications for Cambridge University, selected as the face of MI5 Surveillance national officers campaign, and invited to the House of Commons to represent Britain’s largest swimming campaign ‘The Big Splash’. With more than 11+ years working within the fashion industry as a commercial and fitting model for leading fashion brands as River Island, Primark, REISS, ASOS and Dorothy Perkins, this provided Annabel with the opportunity to build a strong network of fashion industry experts who have been instrumental in developing the Modestwist brand.
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