How I #MadeIt: Nazifa Movsoumova

At a time when the fashion industry is in a state of flux and entrepreneurs, emerging designers and established brands alike face countless challenges in an unstable market, it's encouraging to hear of a recent retail success story.

Over the past decade, Shoreditch has emerged as one of London's leading shopping destinations, particularly for the discerning customer seeking out independent boutiques and concept stores. Modern Society, which opened on Redchurch Street in October 2015, offers a concise edit of fashion, homeware, literature and artwork (the photography on the walls is also for sale). And if you're less interested in shopping and just looking to while away a couple of hours and watch the well-dressed world go by, there's a cosy café at the front of the exceptionally chic store – it looks exactly like the interior of our dream abode.

We caught up with founder of Modern Society, Nazifa Movsoumova, to discuss opening a store, building her team and her fashion vision.
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What did you do before you opened the store last October? What was it like heading into retail?
I began my career in banking after finishing law school. I then went on to work in a cross-section of different professions but my intention was always to have my own business by the age of 30. I launched a series of international pop-up stores and, having got a real feel for retail, launching a permanent store seemed to evolve naturally. I believe in organic growth of business, so pop-ups were a crucial stage of development for Modern Society. Retail was a totally new industry to me, so doing pop-ups allowed me to learn tricks of the trade and explore this business from the inside out, as well as generate buzz about the brand prior to opening our permanent space. Modern Society embodies my personal taste and attitudes to retail today.

Photographed by Morgane Lay & Jonny Cochrane.
Why did you choose Redchurch Street for your first permanent store?
Redchurch Street has seen a wave of independent, experimental businesses emerging in the last few years and perfectly encompasses the concept of Modern Society. Its evolution and expansion has made it the epicentre for inspirational creatives. Bringing together both local and international business, I can’t think of a better location to personify the Modern Society brand. It was my first and only choice for our flagship store; the street has a real neighbourhood vibe about it.

The shop's interior design was done by Kiri Barker of Trend and Fayre, who is an absolute dream to work with. We wanted to create an environment that welcomes and inspires our customers, while complementing the luxury goods on display. Hence the contrast of vintage furniture alongside contemporary fixtures and materials.

How did you go about building your team?
Building a team from scratch is always challenging because of its dynamic and complex nature. However, I am extremely happy that we have accomplished putting together an amazing team, which is like a family to me now and is at the core of our success.

We have also built an amazing community in the last 12 months. Redchurch Street has become a more united neighbourhood, working towards improvements for both its locals and visitors. This year Redchurch Street will be celebrating its first Christmas Festival from 1st to 7th December. With so many businesses contributing and hosting activities, it really sets the bar for future events.

What have been the biggest challenges you've faced over the past year?
We have so many ideas and projects, so it’s all about trying to schedule the important things on a daily basis and knowing how to prioritise on a tight schedule. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do!

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Photographed by Morgane Lay & Jonny Cochrane.
Photographed by Morgane Lay & Jonny Cochrane.

Has Brexit affected your business?

Brexit has definitely had an impact on the business. Since the pound has dropped, all the imported goods have become more expensive for us. The upside is we are in a tourist hotspot and, of course, London has become more affordable for them to shop in. It has been a double-edged sword but let's see what the future holds.

How do you decide which brands and designers to buy?
So far, it has been predominantly based on my personal preference and intuition. If I see something that I like, I will go for it. We were the first to buy Sandy Liang in the UK and I really love supporting those independent designers.

What does your working day usually look like?
Every day is different from the next. I try to devote my time evenly across all aspects of Modern Society, whether it's accounting and admin, strategising our next move with PR or discovering new designers. One thing remains constant: I try to spend as much time as possible in-store, so I'm heavily involved with all daily occurrences.

Has social media helped you not only find designers but build brand awareness for your shop?
Social media has evidently given us a wider audience reach and the ability to witness the growth of creative talent. To people on the other side of the world, our website or Instagram can act as an aspirational platform, setting the tone for when customers visit us in-store. Though we want people to experience the space for themselves, the use of online provides followers with an accurate store depiction and conjures excitement.

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Photographed by Morgane Lay & Jonny Cochrane.
Photographed by Morgane Lay & Jonny Cochrane.

Who have been the biggest influences on your career? Who are your heroes in the industry and beyond?
My family have been a big influence on my career choices. They are always great with advice and a massive support, so that's whom I turn to when in doubt. It’s difficult to select just one hero. I have a great amount of respect for all entrepreneurs, no matter what industry they are in. Witnessing both their successes and their failures is very inspirational; because it is through failures that we really learn and grow.

What do you think of the state of the fashion industry currently? Does Modern Society encourage a slower pace?
The fashion industry is constantly evolving and changing and with that in mind, we want to embrace the changing face of retail. Our main aim is not only to provide a unique curation of products but to be a source of inspiration across the board. We want people to take their time with their shopping experience, to step away from the digital and take in the intricacy of the design and items we have to offer. If time is the ultimate luxury, then we need to give them a reason to be in a physical space.

What would your advice be to young entrepreneurs with ideas to start their own brand or open a shop?
I could talk about this for hours but if I had to offer someone advice, it would be these two main points. 1. Cash is king. Keep a tight control of all your costs. If you can cut down on your expenses, do it. Always know how much money you have at the end of every day, it will keep you on track so you know how the business is really doing. 2. Be honest with yourself as to what your strengths and weaknesses are. Then, build a team that will be great in the areas that you are not, so together you create the perfect balance.

Follow Modern Society on Instagram @modern_society_london