Asal Khalilpour, 35, majored in graphic design, and she has worked alongside her father and brother since she was 15. Her father founded Modern Sport Co. in 1973 that started out as an import company that sold some of the world’s leading and most iconic sports brands in Iran. Modern Sport was later renamed to “M Zone,” thus offering a variety of other items, such as books, perfumes, clothes, and more.
Seven years ago, Asal and her brother co-founded “Ladies’ Weekend,” an event to bring a thriving group of young and talented Iranian fashion designers together with the aim of promoting quality and local talent and designs. She invited 20 of her artist friends, and it proved to be a great success. As of today, they have arranged 30 shows in Tehran and 2 in other cities. Held 3–4 times a year, M Zone hosts 50 fashion designers and at least 2,000 attendees in every event, and it continues to inspire many similar events all over Iran and a number of online shops that support local designers.
Those who collaborate and work together, not only get inspired from one another, but the experience also helps raise their standards.
Meet TTT’s next contemporary woman: Asal Khalilpour
How did you come up with Ladies’ Weekend?
For nearly 50 years, we have had a family business—founded by my father—called Modern Sport. It was one of the top importing companies of sports gears and accessories in Iran. It was later renamed to M Zone. As the economy began to slide into recession, my brother and I set out to find a way to keep the business flowing. Since I was quite passionate about fashion and had many friends who were designers, my brother suggested we had a gathering of designers with my direction. That was the starting point of Ladies’ Weekend in M Zone.
You mentioned gathering and organizing a group of designers. What was the biggest challenge in doing so?
One of the challenges that we faced in the beginning was that some of the designers did not like being introduced alongside each other because they believed it would decrease their chances of sale. Another issue that we always have is copyright infringement. It is our responsibility to oversee designers’ work and make sure they are original and not a copy from someone else’s work. With the number of designers increasing every day, this task is more challenging than ever.
Over the years, have you seen any progress in the work of designers?
Absolutely. Those who collaborate and work together, not only get inspired from one another, but the experience also helps raise their standards. They tend to be more competitive, and, through these events, they get a chance to get to know the real market and industry. These gatherings have played a key role in helping designers progress.
In your opinion, what are some of the key factors in successfully managing a brand in the current market?
I believe creating a healthy competition and keeping an open mind are both very crucial. Designers are always trying to come up with new ideas. However, when it comes to promoting products, setting the right price that is affordable for the majority is key.
When we started out, our initial goal was to gather professional designers whose work was of the highest quality. As time went on, we realized we had varying audiences and that we had to consider younger and more cost-effective options as well. Many designers share the exact same mindset and so should everyone else: to dedicate an aisle to clothes everyone can afford.
I also believe that by gathering data and sharing them with the designers, like the way M Zone evaluates prices, we can educate and help them toward success—almost like a small academy.
Sanctions and designers: challenge or opportunity?
Actually, it is both. The challenge would be foreign material becoming rare and more expensive, and so the prices go up weekly in order for businesses to make a profit. A huge number of Iranian designers started out by making basic clothes, such as manteaux, because that is what most women in Iran wear all day long every day. Over time, fashion designers got more involved in making products other than everyday wear, such as party and going out outfits. So, in a way, sanctions—which were meant to limit trade—created jobs and inspired many to push boundaries.
Why would designers want to pick Ladies’ Weekend over other events?
I think everyone participating in Ladies’ Weekend, aside from promoting their products, gets a chance to compete with others and thereby expand their businesses and flourish. On another note, we have customers meeting new brands and choosing whatever suits them best at a place they can trust. The event holders also make a profit, enabling them to throw more and better events in the future.
How do you feel about expanding the event to other cities and countries?
After around 10 events, I had various offers from others cities in Iran as well as from some of the big cities in Europe, North America, and Canada to bring the event there. However, going to other countries would take a lot of effort, especially considering the Iranian currency losing its value and that importing the goods will not be as easy. Fortunately, the event at M Zone opened a door for local online shops, stores, and even investors to want to focus more on Iranian designers and benefit from their potentials.
What do you think today’s customers really want and expect, specifically in Iran? What type of designs, in your opinion, has more market demand?
Being a designer doesn’t necessarily mean creating something unusual or bizarre; many designers are now starting to realize that, making way for simpler styles and designs and using more traditional elements in their work. The simpler and more practical the design, the more chances of selling you will have.
What is your favorite brand and why?
When it comes to style, I usually prefer simple and classy designs, and since I adore black, I always find myself browsing through Reza Nadimi’s work. His newest brand, YMSK, which is more affordable than his original, best suits my taste.
Compared to traditional stores, how successful is online shopping in Iran?
I don’t think buying clothes from a website is quite popular yet. For one thing, there is no standard size chart available in Iran. Another reason is that consumers don’t have enough trust and confidence in the process. Many Iranians are still used to being able to try on clothes and feel the material before making a purchase. Doing so allows them to evaluate the product and helps them come to a decision that’s not based entirely on images and written descriptions. That’s why our events are very popular and crowded.