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Discreet fashion enters the Dragons’ Den

Alumni Bilal Mashhedi and Danial Agha will present their modest-apparel company Modeste on popular CBC TV show
November 22, 2016
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By Maeve Haldane

Bilal Mashhedi, BEng 13, and Danial Agha, BComm 15, are the business minds behind the Montreal-based, fashion-forward clothing company Modeste. And because their business vision is as snappy as their fashion, the team will present its concept on Dragons’ Den, CBC TV’s cutthroat venture capitalist show.

The episode airs on November 23 at 8 p.m.

Modeste makes high-quality, stylish modest women’s wear. “I’m super passionate about fashion,” Mashhedi says. He is known to stop people on the street to ask what shoes they’re wearing.

Bilal Mashhedi and Danial Agha Bilal Mashhedi and Danial Agha’s company Modeste makes high-quality, stylish modest women’s wear.

He’s always had a sense of style. For instance, Mashhedi was recently sporting a black Yohji Yamamoto trousers and rocking the socks-with-sandals look with a triple-strap Jil Sander model and dark grey Merino tubes. Agha, in an Illustrated Example shirt, self-describes as a little more “street.”

Modeste was started by Mashhedi’s style-conscious wife, Aicha Chtourou, and her mom, Hong Taing. Like many young Montrealers, Chtourou liked shopping at H&M and Zara.

Chtourou then sought to make the clothes more suitable for her modest aesthetic, in line with her religious custom. So she’d have her seamstress mother add lining to sheer fabric or close a skirt slit.

Taing, who escaped the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s, has been sewing for decades.

Taking a risk

Three years ago, the mom-and-daughter team started to sell their own designs online. Then Mashhedi got a job with engineering firm SNC Lavalin in Edmonton. Chtourou moved with him but returned frequently to Montreal for the business.

Modeste skirt on model Modeste fashion

And frankly, it just started doing well enough that she needed to be hands on from nearby.

A year ago, the couple took a deep breath and moved back to devote themselves fulltime to Modeste.

From his Concordia days, Mashhedi says he learned how to organize, prioritize and “just get work done. And I was super confident in what we were doing. It’s a new niche in clothing.”

The clothes appeal to anyone who wants to be stylish and not revealing. “The idea is to keep it open for everyone,” says Mashhedi. “On the website, many models aren’t wearing hijab, and some are.”

Being an online business means they can react quickly to clients’ tastes, try out new products as limited editions, and sell internationally from Australia to Europe to the Middle East.

The clothes caught the eye of American blogger star Saufeeya Goodson, whose hijabfashion Instagram following is 2.5 million. Finding in her a fan and an opportunity, together they designed and launched a capsule collection, Modeste + Feeeeya, now in select boutiques around the world, including the tony Pret-a-Porter in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

And during all this hard work and gains, Mashhedi had an idea. “Aicha and I used to eat pizza and binge-watch Dragons’ Den,” he says. “Even when we’d be driving I’d turn to Aicha and say, ‘We’re going to be on Dragons’ Den.’”

Mashhedi completed a killer application online to face the Dragons. Meanwhile, he kept interviewing possible financial managers, although he couldn’t find the right fit.

He knew, particularly for a shot at Dragons’ Den, the financial operations had to be tight. He asked his cousin Agha to fill the challenging position.

“It’s not pure numbers. It’s science and art. Danial has amazing schooling and he’s got that art in him,” Mashhedi says. “He does it in a holistic way.”

Agha was reluctant at first, having started an MSc in management science at École des sciences de la gestion at Université du Québec à Montréal, but was convinced to jump on board.

Finally, Mashhedi and Agha got the invite to audition. They showed up two hours before start time and were second to appear out of dozens of teams before senior producer Adam Avrashi, BA 11. Their solid preparation and lively manner landed them a coveted spot.

The time just before taping time was a whirlwind for the company. Modeste was designing and shooting video with Goodson while Agha was wrapping up exams. Then they all — Goodson included — hopped in the car for Toronto.

It was nerve wracking. “When you’re actually pitching to the Dragons, it’s pin-drop quiet and you have to break the silence with the most important venture capitalists in Canada,” says Agha.

Yet before long, the Dragons — women and men — were sporting the Modeste clothes on air, clearly impressed with the quality and cut.

How did the team do? You’ll have to tune in to find out.

#CUalumni



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