Benita, a portal designed to deliver the latest news on fashion, beauty and lifestyle, debuted in Iran this May. LINE, the tech giant well-known for its popular messaging app, is backing the foray into the destination site space in the Islamic Republic.
The portal will offer daily content produced by a team of local Iranian staff writers and a forum where users are encouraged to share and discuss the topics that matter most to them.
LINE has done its homework. Iran’s tech and startup scene has been bubbling with activity and press during the past year as the country enters a post-sanctioned era that is inviting a renaissance of direct foreign investment. And they have entered it from an angle that leverages both their tech and social media expertise while addressing a deep demand they have discovered amongst the female population, in particular.
Iran is 39 million women strong (49 percent of the population). Sixty percent of them are younger than 30; to put that into perspective, Iran has the highest share of 15-29-year-olds in the world relative to its overall population.
Now here’s one key to understanding women in Iran: Islamic dress codes.
Women are required to cover their hair and wear modest clothing. This reality enables you to appreciate the Iranian parliament’s research center’s lofty $4 billion estimate of the beauty and cosmetics industry in the country. The open territory of women’s faces and hands becomes essential real estate to express their individuality.
Iran’s tech and startup scene has been bubbling with activity and press during the past year.
But don’t forget fashion. In the bustling streets of northern Tehran lie the latest seasonal collections of top international brands. You can find the trendiest new lineups readily available at boutique shops scattered around this affluent district of Iran’s capital. On the online front, Instagram is the most popular social network, with more than half of Iranians using the photo-sharing platform to follow trends.
Enter the heavy-hitters. Iran reportedly has 3 million high-net-worth individuals and a luxury market that represents about 2 percent of the $1 trillion global luxury goods market, reported by Exane BNP Paribas Analyst, Luca Solca. The female share of that is considerable.
However, the market is also rife with counterfeits, which has festered in past years because of a lack of enforcement of international trademark protection agreements. This will change soon as the big brands step in. Case in point is the deal recently signed by Italy’s fashion industry during a two-day visit by its Prime Minister in order to build better ties with Iran.
Roberto Cavalli opened their first boutique in Iran this past February. Sephora is set to open up shop in Autumn in partnership with leading regional luxury retailer, Chalhoub Group. Versace is reportedly gearing up to open its flagship boutique in Tehran soon.
Yes, Europe’s biggest luxury brands are eying the second biggest market in the Middle East and stepping in, which will set in motion the process of encouraging increased trademark protection and decreasing demand for the knock-offs.
Most, if not all, of these foreign brands establish relationships with local partners; LINE is no exception. They developed Benita in coordination with Edoramedia, a digital agency based in Dubai that is well reputed in the region for developing best-of-class portals and apps.
“Iranians aren’t light users when it comes to tech,” says Hossein Jalali, Managing Partner at Edoramedia. “They are the most advanced audience in the region, and demand the best user experience and offering that any top brand can offer.”
What usually happens next is that alongside the entry and evolution of portals like Benita, a flood of adjacent startups and solutions will emerge. They will rally to compete and support digitization of this female-dominant industry as the sophistication of the platforms and tools finally begins to match that of an already well-versed audience.
“The retail scene is rapidly changing but the lack of proper retail space makes e-commerce the only choice for new players looking to enter,” says Ehsan Golabgir, CEO of Albasco.com, a popular e-commerce portal in the country.