A high-fashion apparel startup wants to create a better uniform for working women — and millennials are obsessed

Jessica Lee and Lizzie Agnew are the cofounders of high-fashion e-commerce startup Modern Citizen.

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Jessica Lee and Lizzie Agnew are the cofounders of high-fashion e-commerce startup Modern Citizen.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The streets of San Francisco are paved with young men wearing hoodies, jeans, and T-shirts – the tech bro uniform popularized by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and other tech executives.

In 2014, Stanford graduates Jessica Lee and Lizzie Agnew decided to offer a fashionable alternative for women out of their home base of San Francisco. Modern Citizen, their direct-to-consumer apparel company, provides stylish, professional women with a curated collection of fashion-forward pieces, with many items priced under $100. Cashmere knits, wrap dresses, and relaxed-fit blazers provide comfortable alternatives to the Valley wardrobe staples.

At a time when shoppers are fleeing mall chainslike J. Crew, Gap, and Abercrombie & Fitch, Modern Citizen is growing. The company opened its first brick-and-mortar in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood in August and has plans for an outpost in New York next year.A spokesperson declined to share revenue but confirmed that yearly sales top $1 million.

Business Insider sat down with Modern Citizen’s cofounders, Lee and Agnew, to see what the high-fashion e-tailer is doing differently to evade the retail apocalypse.

Additional photography by Caroline Cakebread.


Jessica Lee and Lizzie Agnew make it sound easy starting a women-run fashion label in the city they call “Man Francisco.” The idea was to create a brand for “women like us,” Lee said.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Both 20-somethings loved designer labels but could rarely afford them. They didn’t want to shop fast-fashion brands because the clothes are made as cheaply as they’re priced.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Modern Citizen offers items for professional women who want to dress stylishly but comfortably, without breaking the bank. Most items retail for under $100.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Lee said the outfits come together easily and give wearers an added dose of confidence. “If you feel put together, you’ll be put together,” Lee said.

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After graduating from Stanford, Lee started her career at Gap Inc., where she worked on business strategy for Gap, Athleta, and Banana Republic’s e-commerce platforms.

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Jessica Lee and her dog, Charles Barkley, who is a furry fixture of Modern Citizen’s office in San Francisco.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

There, she kept tabs on competitors and saw that small fashion labels could build massive followings by having a specific aesthetic. The internet let them reach people anywhere.

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Source: USA Today


She and her cofounder, Agnew, an alumna of Stitch Fix and ModCloth, assembled a team of women to build their ideal brand. (Modern Citizen added its first male employee in 2017.)

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Modern Citizen employees attempt to corral Charles Barkley the labradoodle for a group photo.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The Modern Citizen aesthetic can be described as “minimal with a slight twist,” according to Vogue. Each piece has something small that makes it special and goes beyond basics.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: Vogue


The side-zip cashmere sweater is a customer favorite at $88. It uses a cashmere blend that makes it super-soft and machine washable, and the zippers add a touch of whimsy.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The vegan suede dress in rose gives a chic nod to the ’90s. It costs $102.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The “Going Places” compass necklace is another “hero SKU” for the brand. Agnew said the $80 price point makes it a desirable compromise between costume jewelry and solid gold.

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Over the past year, Modern Citizen has added more home goods and beauty products, in an effort to make the online store a destination for everything the modern woman wants.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Most retailers launch collections based on seasons. Modern Citizen releases small batches of new apparel continually throughout the year, giving women new reasons to come back.

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Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

Every online order comes with a hand-written note from a Modern Citizen employee. She might look at your order history and offer suggestions on how to match the new item with an old one.

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Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

Over the summer, Modern Citizen opened a showroom in San Francisco in order to bring new customers into the fold and connect more closely with existing fans.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The company gathers feedback from customer surveys, return shipments, and personal styling appointments it provides for its most loyal shoppers. The showroom also provides a venue for Modern Citizen’s “salon series” of panel discussions, networking events, and female speakers.


It’s planning to open a permanent brick-and-mortar in New York in 2018.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Modern Citizen hasn’t achieved quite the same cult following as hip competitor Everlane, which saw $35 million in sales in 2015 and has over 400,000 followers on Instagram.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider and Instagram


But it’s on its way.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider