Iran: an emerging market with its unique set of rules

Over a year after the West's sanctions against Iran were lifted, the country is still relatively unfamiliar to international brands and retailers, though it clearly intrigues them. The French Federation of Knitwear and Lingerie is one of the institutions who are trying to understand what makes the Iranian market tick, and it recently held a conference on how to establish a business and sell in Iran.

 

A picture from the Instagram account of Tehran concept store M Zone - Instagram
 
Though the sanctions were effectively lifted from 16th January 2016, their elimination is a gradual process, one likely to take some time. The ready-to-wear sector in Iran has long been impacted by the sanctions, but has nevertheless grown, adopting a series of avoidance strategies throughout the 35-year sanction period.

Iranian sales representatives Mana Sharifi and Patrick Sinz told the conference how, until early 2016, 99% of apparel imports in Iran were made illegally.

Among European countries, Italy is the leader in terms of clothing exports to Iran, Italian products accounting for 52% of European apparel items exported to the country. France ranks fourth in this respect.

Iran is a large country by European standards, with a population of 82 million which still harbours deep disparities in economic means. Nearly 7% of Iranians are very well off, and a large number of them belong to the middle class, a boon for Western labels.

According to Patrick Sinz, the apparel market in Iran is "tricky, but more mature than it seems." The country is an Islamic republic, its laws governed by religion, and this means there are many rules to be observed that impact the ready-to-wear industry. The way Iranians dress changes significantly, especially for women, depending on whether they find themselves in a public as opposed to a private environment. Outside the home, women must wear a long dress and a scarf. At home, they wear the outfits they like, and they are keen to keep up with the latest fashion trends.

Window-display dummies must be headless, brand logos cannot be too transgressive, for example featuring pigs or devils, lingerie cannot be displayed in shop windows and the colour green is to be avoided. Even if they follow these rules however, international brands and retailers still have to win over the trust of Iranian consumers.

The country's isolation has given rise to a host of parallel channels and to a large market in counterfeit goods, notably in ready-to-wear apparel. According to Patrick Sinz and Mana Sharifi, Iranian clients must be reassured about the authenticity of the products they purchase. They also want to make sure they buy at a price that is similar with that prevalent in an item's country of origin.

Iranians are social-media savvy and they are regular patrons of airport fashion stores. Over the years, they have always managed to get hold of the clothes they wanted. They are well-travelled and know how to compare prices. 

Iranian consumers seek exclusivity and peer recognition. They pay special attention to the 'chic factor' in what they buy, and they like to stand out for their outfits and fashion accessories.

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