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How Navabi's founders discovered a plus-size gap in the market

Bahman Nedaei and Zahir Dehnadi defied the experts to turn start-up into a booming business.

As plus-size fashion grows its profile on the high street, Bahman Nedaei and Zahir Dehnadi have not been surprised. The childhood friends and lifelong entrepreneurs Bahman Nedaei and Zahir Dehnadi were warned that plus-size women would not buy high-quality, trend-led fashion but, determined to prove the naysayers wrong and tap into what they saw as an under-represented market, the duo started plus-size etailer Navabi in Germany in 2009. 

navabi bahman nedaei zahir dehnadi

navabi bahman nedaei zahir dehnadi

Bahman Nedaei (left) and Zahir Dehnadi

 

Why did you start Navabi?

Zahir Dehnadi: We’ve been friends since we were 12 and played together on the same sports team. We both always had the need to build something and started our first media company while we were still in high school. It grew throughout our university years and we learned how to work together and how to manage teams.

Bahman Nedaei: We were also looking into ecommerce, inspired by Ebay and Amazon. My aunt had a boutique, which sold styles in a variety of sizes. We asked whether we could test her stuff online and found it was the larger sizes that sold well. Some customers were paying almost as much in shipping as they did for a dress, so we knew we’d hit on something.

Why plus-size fashion?

Nedaei: When we started looking at the market in 2006/7, no-one was talking about this customer. An industry “expert” told us the plus-size customer wouldn’t spend any money on fashion and only low-price brands and retailers could be successful in the market.

Dehnadi: We couldn’t understand why, for millions of women beyond a certain size, there was so little choice. We weren’t bringing something that was already available offline online, as other ecommerce business have done. We were pioneering.

Why launch your own brands on Navabi?

Nedaei: When our buyers first started looking for brands to stock, many were either so far behind the trends or overpriced. We weren’t looking to launch our own brands, but we needed to. It’s now a huge share of our revenue.

How important is the UK to Navabi?

Dehnadi: We came to the UK three years ago and it’s our fastest-growing market, although we tend to compare customers by segments rather than by country. For example, customers in Berlin might have more in common with those in London than those in Munich. Our UK customer tends to be slightly younger and more trend driven.

How will you grow the business?

Dehnadi: Someone from Silicon Valley once told us that Navabi would definitely be successful, unless we tried to do too many things at once. There are opportunities for us internationally, in the US, Canada and the Middle East, opportunities for wholesale, opportunities to go offline. We’re now a profitable business, so it’s about continuing to grow profitably.

 

The Drapers verdict: Is fashion doing enough for plus sized customers? 

Plus-sized fashion is going mainstream. Sportswear giant Nike launched its first range of plus-size activewear in March, going up to a size 3X (three sizes above XL) and modelled by body-positive influencers Grace Victory and Danielle Vanier. Victoria Beckham’s collaboration with value US retailer Target, which launches this week, will go up to a UK size 24, and curvier models Katy Syme and Stella Duval walked at H&M’s “see now, buy now” catwalk show last month. It does seem that the tide is turning, but progress on the high street is still too slow. Although online players such as Missguided, Boohoo and Asos have been quick off the mark at catering for plus-sized customers, many high street retailers continue to ignore customers over a 16 – the UK’s average size. The UK fashion industry still has a long way to go before it truly caters to all shapes and sizes.

 

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