Ali Mehrdad and Stefan Foster, co-founders of one of the most popular sunglasses brand of the moment, Roberi & Fraud, make starting your own accessories business from scratch look easy. In less than a year with no design experience, they've somehow not only conceived of and manufactured an entire, on-trend collection—most of which has already sold out—but also had the world's biggest supermodels and style influencers, from Bella and Gigi Hadid to Kendall Jenner, wear their products. And not just wear them once, but all the time, in countless paparazzi photos, and on Instagram.
How did they do it?
"The designs were literally made in 15 minutes," said Mehrdad over the phone from his home base in Dubai this summer. For inspiration, he and Foster both simply looked to the designer sunglasses their parents wore in the '90s, from small Matrix-esque frames to glamorous cat-eyes, and voila, they had their styles. Then they gave them old-school names like Betty and Doris, thought of an expensive-sounding brand name, and hit the ground running. "Every style you can think of has already been done," added Mehrdad matter-of-factly. "It's just a matter how of how you market it."
And marketing is exactly what this duo knows how to do. Mehrdad and Foster first met in grade school, and would later go on to co-found the UAE-based consulting agency, Front Row Mode after realizing that the rest of the world didn't know how to tap Middle Eastern consumers, which, as Mehrdad says, is "where the money's at." Their clients included brands like Burberry and The Row, as well as department stores Bergdorf Goodman and Harvey Nichols.
"We helped a lot of companies make a lot of money," said Mehrdad. "So, we got to a point where we were like, 'Why don't we create our own brand?' We looked at the market, and the whole industry is saturated with brands popping up. But then we realized that the only markets that aren't saturated are shoes and eyewear. Shoes weren't for us, so we went with eyewear."
It's as simple as that: no grueling internships, no CFDA Awards, no fashion week presentations...yet. Rather, Mehrdad and Foster came into the industry looking to fill a hole, give people what they wanted, and quickly, before they changed their minds. Of course, they also wanted make some money along the way. It's arguably the raison d'etre for every fashion brand ever, just with less bells and whistles. And in 2017, this hyper-focused, market-driven, trend-savvy strategy is the least transparent, but perhaps most successful path.
Good PR contacts and a popular Instagram account also helps. Mehrdad and Stefan agree that accessories like sunglasses are more likely to be shared on Instagram thanks to selfie culture, and instantly purchased because of their lower price-point. In addition to American celebrities like Bella Hadid sharing their products, (she hit it off with the duo after visiting Dubai this year), all it took was one Bollywood star like Sonam Kapoor to tag Roberi & Fraud on Instagram for her 10 million followers to see, and an entirely new international market suddenly popped up.
Today, Mehrdad and Stefan find people tagging Roberi & Fraud on Instagram, even when it's not their sunglasses being featured—the modern era's sincerest form of flattery.
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