Aicha Chtourou; Montreal;
Let’s say we’ve just met at a dinner party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?
I design and create fashion-forward modest clothing under my line, Mode-ste. As a woman of faith I always had trouble finding fashionable and contemporary clothing so I decided to move forward and create it myself. We’ve extended the fashion bubble and made it even more inclusive by making garments that all women can wear—regardless of culture, background or belief—without having to think twice.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to school at Vanier College in Montreal, studying child psychology (a field I fell in love with!). Midway through, my passion for clothing design peaked and together with my mother, who is a master seamstress, we created our own line in the modest fashion industry.
What was your first paying gig out of school?
I transitioned from school straight to becoming a designer and entrepreneur, and have never looked back. So oddly, my first paying gig, was my own company.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
It all kind of happened all in one swift moment. In April of last year, we flew out Saufeeya Goodson () owner of Hijab Fashion () to shoot a documentary and visuals for our collaborative collection (). A day into her stay, we then learnt we were invited to pitch to the Dragons, on Dragons’ Den at the CBC headquarters. A few days later we were then ed by the luxury boutique in Kuala Lumpur to become one of its stockists; we flew there for its grand opening. In the one week, we had worked with Saufeeya in Montreal, gone to Toronto to pitch to the Dragons, and then flew out to Kuala Lumpur for two weeks with Pret-À-Porter. All of the exposure and spotlight from those events really propelled us in the modest fashion sphere on a worldwide level.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
The moment that sticks out to me was when we were going toe-to-toe with the Dragons on Dragons’ Den, and within two minutes of our pitch, we were offered two deals from Manjit Minhas and Michael Wekerle. The feeling of elation, that two of Canada’s most prominent venture capitalists see what you see, and are willing to put their hard-earned money in your business, is one that can’t be described.
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
Not fully investing in the business sooner. When you feel you’re onto something, take a full step, not a half step! I’m happy to say my husband, who was originally an environmental engineer, has joined the brand full-time and we’re now growing and taking this places we could never have dreamed of. We wouldn’t be here had we not taken the full step and gone all-in.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
Trust your intuition. We started this business with two women, my mom and I, lacking prior business experience or a formal business education, but we made it happen by trusting ourselves and our vision. Of course, seeking counsel from those with relevant experience and having an open mind to advice and criticism has its place and is very valuable. But if that same advice steers you away from your pure vision, trust yourself and your intuition; it’s what got you here.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
“Don’t do it!”
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
I’m lucky enough to be an entrepreneur in women’s fashion, so I’ve never had to deal with gender barriers. The classic startup barriers—like finding the right partners, working tirelessly to be ahead of the curve and really just being self-sufficient while figuring things out from the ground up—are there, but that’s just part of the hustle.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
I’d be lying if I said I make a luxurious salary. I make a modest amount but I wouldn’t have it any other way. In the startup grind, you take only what’s necessary and use the rest to build real value in your company. Luckily I don’t need a side hustle, and to be honest I’ll do everything in my power to keep 100 percent focused on the task at hand, which is growing Mode-ste!
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
“Millennials are lazy!” I feel it’s the exact opposite. In a time where competition is at an all-time high, and degrees are a plenty, we need to find ways to stick out and get that elusive job, career or business. We are the most highly-educated generation to date and we aren’t afraid to work long hours, or pursue advanced degrees to separate from the pack. We may find easier ways to get work done, but that’s being efficient, not lazy.