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Iranian Fashion Brands Go Upmarket Amid International Sanctions

The 9th edition of the International Apparel Exhibition Iran Mode was held this week in Tehran.
The 9th edition of the International Apparel Exhibition Iran Mode was held this week in Tehran. (Council of Iran Fashion Brands)

The 9th annual edition of the International Apparel Exhibition Iran Mode (IAEIM) was held this week at the Tehran Permanent Fairground in the Iranian capital.

The trade show, which ran Dec. 5 to 8, saw 167 domestic exhibitors — ranging from clothing manufacturers and accessories suppliers to machinery companies and textile and yarn producers — present their products to buyers and other attendees. Software companies providing design and retail management solutions also participated in the event.

According to Ali Moradi, executive manager of IAEIM, the show aims to facilitate both domestic and international business opportunities for companies active or interested in the Iranian fashion market. Leaders of local fashion brands such as Narian, Body Spinner and Sarak were among those taking part.

Over the last decade, Iran’s fashion industry has faced an increasingly unstable and unpredictable economic environment, due largely to international sanctions imposed by the UN, the US and the EU over Iran’s uranium enrichment programme.

Though some sanctions were briefly lifted during the US Obama administration, they were reinstated under former president Trump. The Iranian rial fell to a new low against the US dollar in September due to the impact of the pandemic and US sanctions on the Iranian economy. Talks to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an accord which led to sanctions being lifted, are currently ongoing as diplomats from six countries meet with their counterparts from Iran in Vienna, Austria.

Sanctions and broader instability in the Iranian market have led to the precipitous rise of contraband fashion imports. The recent departure of international brands that had entered the country while sanctions were temporarily lifted has left consumers with little choice but to buy Iranian brands, many of which were in need of modernisation and professionalisation.

“We created the CIFB (Council of Iran Fashion Brands) by [gathering] 170 retailers [who are] upgrading retail quality,” says Tehran University professor and retail consultant Dr Alireza Jalili.

Western sanctions have led Iranian fashion brands to source more textiles and raw materials from producers in China and Turkey. They also compelled some local fabric suppliers to produce better quality fabrics as the market increasingly demanded it.

“Four years ago, I could not find good quality fabrics here, but now the quality of most of the [local] products are better than Turkish ones,” said Ali Bahrampoor, manager of men’s clothing producer Kanirush, which had a pavilion at the fair.

Over the course of the pandemic, Iranian consumers, like their counterparts elsewhere, flocked to buy fashion from e-commerce players and direct-to-consumer brands, accelerating the adoption of online shopping.

Abdollah Taheri, founder of Banimode, one of Iran’s biggest online clothing retailers, has spent this year attracting more brands to his platform.

“During the pandemic years of operation, we experienced two times more orders compared with the same period in the year prior. However, we still have problems supplying lingerie, jackets and kids’ shoes because these product categories need specialist machinery,” he said.

Few foreign visitors attend Iranian fashion trade shows, especially during the pandemic period, but according to Arezoo Khosravi Farsani, senior design manager of Iran-based Dorsa Jewellery, there were some international attendees. She noted German visitors who were interested in the brand.

“We are going to export our products in near future,” she said.

In addition to this month’s International Apparel Exhibition Iran Mode, there are several other B2B fashion events that make up the increasingly diverse Iranian fashion ecosystem, including Tehran Modex in October and Iran Retail Show in November. Though Tehran Fashion Week did not run this year, a new, tech-focussed Techran Fashion Week did make an appearance.

According to Bahram Shahryari, vice president of Iran’s Textile and Garment Production and Export Union, the value of the Iranian fashion market is estimated to be $8 billion, of which between 70 and 80 percent is domestic product and the remaining 20 to 30 percent of the market is made up of either smuggled imports or goods from foreign companies produced in Iran.

In recent months, there have been local reports of Bangladeshi clothes which were rejected by European countries during the pandemic being imported into Iran and sold in local bazaars at low price points.

The value of Iran’s garment exports reached over $113 million during the previous Persian calendar year 1399 (ended March 20, 2021 in the Gregorian calendar), which represents a 99 percent increase year-on-year, according to a Fibre2Fashion report quoting Afsaneh Mehrabi, director general of the weaving and garment industries department at Iran’s ministry of industry, mining and trade.

According to Shahryari, Iran exports textiles and clothing mainly to two neighbouring countries, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Garment businesses from other countries should visit here [because] the Iran market situation and Iranian brands have [evolved a lot in just two years],” said Khayam Asgari, owner of Tehran Marketing School.

However, ongoing sanctions, exchange rate fluctuations, volatile prices for raw materials and bans on the entry and exit of goods continue to present a very unstable environment for local fashion and retail industry players. Despite these challenges, many remain optimistic about future business opportunities – especially if sanctions are lifted.

Learn more:

Unlocking the Enigma of Iran

Iran is on the verge of a diplomatic breakthrough with the West. But after decades of sanctions, fatwas and hostile relations, how promising is its fashion market?

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