Hedieh Oveisi quit her job on the digital team of a large advertising agency to work full-time on a fashion startup. She and six of her team mates are developing a personal styling app after winning first place at Iran’s first Startup Weekend focused on fashion and tech last month. The prize: three months in pre-accelerator phase at Dmond Innovation Group.
More than half of the nearly 100 participants were women. Oveisi, a 29-year old website designer was among them. Her team’s business idea, Fit & Fine, uses personal preferences to suggest various styles from local brands, depending on the occasion and the user’s taste. They plan to launch in March.
Just two years ago, when I first visited Iran to report on the ecosystem, startups were not yet mainstream. Oviesi says much has changed.
“Startups and knowledge-based companies that are established and managed by young people are among the society’s hot topics these days.”
In Iran, women must wear a manteau , a light coat from the neck to knees, and covering elbows. It’s given way to a cottage industry specializing in the garment.
“Considering the very diverse ethical, religious, cultural, and geographical background of the Iranians, a comprehensive platform in the field of fashion which is based on the newest technologies can be very useful. The platform we are trying to create will provide a place for regular people, designers, and producers to offer products based on Iranian styles.”
With the last year’s launch of Vogue Arabia, and the mammoth malls of Dubai, its no surprise that fashion is serious business in the Middle East. In Iran, consumers are brand-conscious with sophisticated tastes thanks to trips abroad, and a cultural appreciation for individual style.
Tehran-based designer Anna Sani has a client roster made up of female lawyers, judges and doctors. While she’s not necessarily looking for new business, designers like Sani may soon be able to interact with potential customers through Klouch, third-place winner at Startup Weekend.
The app is sort of like the Classifieds section of a newspaper. It operates as a two-way street between consumers and designers. Consumers can post pictures of an item of clothing they’d like to have made and designers can respond to the request via the platform. Equally, designers can market their clothing on the app.
26-year old Hossein Sarailoo, a member of the Klouch team, worked in sales and marketing, gaining experience with one of Iran’s startup success stories, Takhfifan, led by female founder Nazanin Daneshvar. After conducting research among friends, Sarailoo realized consumers and designers weren’t connecting easily.
“Friends told me most of the items on social media sites like Instagram were too expensive. Meanwhile, I talked to designers who want a platform to sell their products more easily. We want to develop an eBay for fashion designers.”
Two years ago, I reported 70 percent of Iran’s science and engineering students are women. Naturally, many of those women are joining Iran’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Startup Weekend organizer AmirReza Mohammadi has noticed the increase in their involvement, and says support for startups – across the board, has improved.
There is government support for startup events, better internet infrastructure and higher mobile penetration. Debit card use has reached 92 percent, according to TECHRASA.com.
“People are acutely more aware of what is happing here. In Iran, when people are using an app they actually think about who’s behind it – who founded and invested in the app,” Mohammadi says.
Since the Iran deal was reached two years ago, higher numbers of members of the Diaspora from the U.S. and Europe have been visiting Iran to offer mentorship. Mohammadi believes the ecosystem will benefit most from role models and international exits.
“If the regulations keep up and sanctions fade away, we could see some international mergers and acquisitions. This will inject more capital to the market and will also impact the market valuations intensely.”