Iran, the second largest economy in the Middle East is slowly leaving the cocoon it had been kept in for many years. As the sanctions are lifting more international brands are heading into the country to tap the untouched market. Harasp an Iranian retail marketplace for fashion goods is trying to satisfy the appetite which Iranians have for luxury products that are now finding their way into the country.
We spoke with two of Harasp’s co-founders at their office in Jordan Boulevard, one of the luxury business districts in Tehran. Harasp, as their founders describe is the first luxury fashion e-commerce in Iran. The website was launched in September 2015 by Mohammad Javaherian, Alireza Zare and Hadi Najafi.
“We’re not just an online store. We have a slogan which says ‘Be Iconic’. We want to say that not only we’re selling products, but we’re also giving you style. We might be able to sell ten products but we only sell four of them. Because we think that those four products are the trends,” says Mohammad Javaherian, chief executive of Harasp, who moved back from London to Tehran to start this venture with his colleagues.
“We want to say that not only we’re selling products, but we’re also giving you style.”
For years, Iranians with an appetite for luxury goods looked for their desired products in the neighboring countries such as Turkey and the UAE. “Unfortunately in Iran there is a problem with finding original cloth and people generally don’t trust the stores that bring these brands,” said Alireza Zare, one of the co-founders of Harasp. “We wanted to start an online e-commerce website which could gain the trust of people who wanted to buy original cloth with a fair price,” he continued. When we asked how you’re going to keep your prices reasonable compared to the many shops that are popping up everyday in Tehran they said: “We’re not paying 30,000 dollars for the rent of a boutique, that’s one.”
“There’s a big market for high-end fashion not only for the wealthy people but also for the middle and upper-class Iranians.”
Clothing is amongst the most smuggled goods in Iran. Most of the brands available in the country are being imported by non-official channels, but the guys behind Harasp hope that this would change. “There are already brands such as Versace and Roberto Cavalli that are working officially in Iran, so the road has already been paved and we expect to see more fashion brands in Iran in the near future,” said Alireza.
“We’re not paying 30,000 dollars for the rent of a boutique.”
But even in some of the main boutiques of Tehran, you still can’t find the latest fashion stocks. High-end brands are very limited and are only available in some districts of Tehran, such as Fereshteh neighborhood. “We saw that many people would pay the price if they see the quality [of our stock]. There’s a big market for high-end fashion not only for the wealthy people but also for the middle and upper-class Iranians.”
When fashion from the east and west meet
Harasp is not only a marketplace for international brands, but it’s also an online retail for designers both inside and outside the country. Some of the Iranian designers working with Harasp include Nassim Akhavan, Yasmineh Kafai, Naghmeh Kiumarsi, Noor Arash, Babak Vosoughi and Foje. “We think that a brand such as Tiffany might not sell in Iran as much as the local products from Iranian accessory designers such as Kia Gallery and Parasteh. In the accessories section we’ll be focusing more on local designers,” said Mohammad.
“I think putting limits on fashion doesn’t make sense,” he continued, when asked about bringing western fashion culture to Iran. “The customer can get the Manteau from the Iranian designer and the boots from Christian Louboutin which is known all around the world. We want to have a platform for both Iranian and foreign designers in one place.”
Products from well-known international designers such as Hussein Bazaza, Lele Sadoughi, Sandra Mansour, Rula Galayini and Nathalie Trad are also available on Harasp.
When customer satisfaction is as luxurious as the products
To fulfill the needs of its wealthy customers, Harasp has to offer services that suit the status of a luxury e-commerce. As the founders mention, Harasp is trying to build a long-term relationship with its customers who can then earn points on Harasp’s members club and gain its benefits . The website offers a “try on door” and “see on door” option for its members. Customers can try the product at their home before paying for it to make sure the product is exactly what they expect of it to be. If they didn’t like it, they can cancel their order and send the product back.
Harasp also accepts special orders from customers who want a specific product from the US or Europe. If for any reason the customer didn’t find the product they were looking for on the website, they can fill out a form on Harasp’s website to order an item and receive the package within 2 to 3 weeks.
Harasp’s co-founders believe that the current e-commerce players in Iran are not really their competitors. “We have a different market. If Digikala decides to bring Gucci products to their website, they won’t be able to market it,” explained Mohammad. “Bamilo and Digikala have already established their position and are targeting a different market than us,” he added.
“Bamilo and Digikala have already established their position and are targeting a different market than us.”
When asked about the entry of international e-commerce giants in the Iranian market, Alireza told us that they have a much better understanding of the Iranian market than the foreign players. “The thing that distinguishes us from them is that we’re well connected to the designers’ community in Iran and we’re not just selling international products,” said Alireza. “It would be really great to have a partnership with the well-known high-end fashion websites such as Farfetch and Net-a-Porter.”
“One of the main advertising channels of Harasp are our suppliers. The customers are hearing about us from the designers and the brands, not from the city billboards,” said Mohammad when talking about marketing their brand.
Harasp had a first round of funding and is now in talks to raise a new round of investments to further expand its business. “We are looking for smart money, so if we find a suitable investor who has the experience and the knowledge in this field we are definitely interested to cooperate,” said Mohammad Javaherian.
“We are starting our blog in the near future and we want to present the latest designs to our users and introduce them to the latest trendy outfits. Information about fashion in Iran – both online and offline – has been weak and scattered. We want to aggregate all these information,” explained Alireza.
The market in the US and Europe also have interest in the fashion accessories built in Iran, according to the co-founders of Harasp. They stated that in the future Harasp will offer sending some of its products to markets outside of Iran.
“Iranians have a good sense of fashion. They like to follow the latest fashion trends from movies and social media.”
Aside from the markets in the US and Europe, other markets in the region such as Afghanistan could be a gold mine. “There are many wealthy people in cities such as Kabul who are interested in the latest fashion trends,” said Mohammad.
Mohammad and Alireza believe that fashion could improve the quality of people’s lifestyle. “Iranians have a good sense of fashion. They like to follow the latest fashion trends from movies and social media. We anticipate to see a fierce competition between the international brands here in Iran now that the sanctions have been lifted.”