Client story: Dalal Behbehani from NAZ
The first word that comes to mind after having spoken to Dalal Behbehani is organic. Every step of her journey towards NAZ has been inspired by a meaningful story. Every story comes straight from the soul, sharing experiences molded and crafted by values that center around love and empowerment, both of self and others. Dalal is simultaneously effervescent and poised, keen to share her lifelong passions and determined to add some good to the world.
While on holiday in Europe, Dalal manages to carve out the time to speak to me about her budding luxury fashion rental service, NAZ. With her warm demeanor, Dalal makes me feel like less of a cumbersome intrusion to and moreso a welcomed stop on her itinerary. As I log onto the call, a lively scene greets me. I see the afternoon sun stream into the room through the curtains, and her kids pop in and out of the background of our video chat.
Dalal recounts, with sharp hindsight, the stories and life choices that have led to NAZ’s fruition. Her drive to explore a calling beyond her full-time profession highlights the importance of self-exploration and self-love as indispensable cornerstones in the pursuit of a fulfilled life. While tackling an industry that, to say the least, has proven problematic both socioeconomically and environmentally, NAZ has never seemed like a more natural and organic pathway for Dalal to take in her career.
Luxury fashion and the environment have never been so direly in need of an open dialogue as they do today, and NAZ is a fitting conduit to bridge the gaps between the consumptive fashion industry and its effects on our finite resources. As a NAZ client, you can expect to have increased autonomy to re-examine your perceptions of and relationship with fashion, and continuously re-define your personal identity through clothing. Through renting rather than buying, NAZ and its users promote a circular economy model as somewhat of an antithesis to fast fashion, that we would all do good to participate in.
Many thanks to Dalal for participating in this interview. Learning about NAZ has left me energized and hopeful for the future of the fashion industry.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Thank you so much for doing this, especially on your holiday!
Dalal Behbehani: Well thank you for asking me! Right now it’s still just an idea being articulated, so…
So how did you arrive at this moment right now? What’s your life story, and what led you to wanting to create NAZ?
As a teenager I always envisioned myself as an entrepreneur, because the one appealing thing is really being the decision maker to impact what I do with my day, the way I interact with people, but once I got into the corporate world, it became really challenging, to be honest. I had very gratifying jobs in the finance world and [while] I did really well, it just became harder and harder over time. I also saw the ugly side of finance. One of the first things we study in finance is the principal agent problem, which is [how] the world of capitalism is based on people having money, and people who manage that money for them. So it’s the principles who are the suppliers of finances, and the agents who are the managers of it. I’ve always liked the idea of fiduciary obligation problems, which stems from [the principal agent problem]. Of course, I got into the hedge fund world right after I finished my MBA from INSEAD - it was during the [2008 financial] crisis, actually. So I rode that wave then got into corporate finance in the region, at an investment grade bank. As you get more senior, you start acting with real decision makers and agents. Slowly, that morphed into [mitigating] while the financial crisis happened. It’s basically just a lot of agents without any principals. For a while I wanted to affect change. [It’s] a world that I was aware of, well versed in, I did well in, but a world I no longer saw myself as [wanting to] belong to. And then I pursued further education just to be able to see where I could go - so I was already in an executive education course in Boston with, really, the idea of wanting to shift gears. But by that time, 20 years into the corporate world, I still felt I didn’t have the guts for entrepreneurship.
My journey as a parent has actually also been interesting - I have three children - my introduction into parenthood was also very jarring, so I started to think about what I could do to create a positive impact - if I was to write a letter to myself, as a teenager, what would I tell me? What advice would I give? I felt that I moved away from what I wanted 20 years ago. So, for me, it’s not going into fashion. I don’t see myself as someone who’s into fashion as such. I wanted to choose my clothes to tell a story about who I am. For example, when I was in my 20s, I wore suits, pinstripe suits, and I put my head up in a bun to fit in with all the men in the room. The likelihood of me being the only woman, not just the youngest, was 99 percent of the time - it was a very patriarchal society. So that happened in my 20s. As I gained more confidence and really started establishing my values within an organization, I started embracing my femininity. So when I look at photos of me in my 20s in business settings, and look at them now in the [last] three to four years, there’s a real shift. I start letting my hair down, it’s curly, it’s wild, I wear red, I wear dresses, and I make it a point to choose my clothes to tell a story of who I am! And that’s how the idea of fashion came to me. Plus, the past three to four years, I’ve always been conscious about environmental impact, but the more educated I am, the more I recognize the cost of how these options impact people and the world that I live in. That’s why I decided that it’s great to use clothing as a service.
Even when I started a few years ago looking into ethical brands, they were a bit boring, and also really expensive! And so that’s where the idea of renting luxury really came to me. It’s not something that I came up with, it’s there, but using an online platform to scale it has been something that I've always wanted to do. To combine what Net-A-Porter did, use the e-commerce chain, Rent-the-Runway… [Kuwait] is a third world country in all of its glory, so the logistics and business infrastructure is really backward. I’m fully aware that it’s challenging, that it’s going to be a logistics company in the beginning, but that’s my area of expertise. That’s my degree, and my first 10 years it’s what I did, and I felt like it’s a great way to mesh the things that I’ve done, my vocation and my avocation. And really, it’s something that aligns my convictions in a way that makes sense. To me, ideally, when I launch NAZ, I want it to be the type of brand where, even if you find the idea of renting clothes kind of iffy, even if it’s not something you want to do, even if you don’t rent clothing, I want to be the kind of brand that impacts the way you think, even if you don’t become a user or consumer.
“For me, personally, the hardest part was loving myself more so than people around me, because as a mother, as a daughter, as a sister, [life] was always about being there for them. One of my biggest eye-opening experiences was being there for me.”
It really sounds like NAZ is embedded in your identity as a businesswoman, woman, mother, and considering the environment around you. So what’s the story behind the name, NAZ?
So NAZ, it’s a silent nod towards my Persian heritage. NAZ, For me, connotes strength. If you ask any Iranian person what it means, it describes someone who is coy, coquettish, who is beautiful - a woman who is beautiful. There’s a lot of positive nuances about the name, with no negative connotation. For me, it’s femininity and strength. It’s love. It’s something that’s all-encompassing. One of the definitions [of NAZ] is knowing that you are loved, no matter what you do. And I think that everyone deserves that, right? We all deserve that. For me, personally, the hardest part was loving myself more so than people around me, because as a mother, as a daughter, as a sister, [life] was always about being there for them. One of my biggest eye-opening experiences was being there for me. So NAZ was always a word that resonated a lot with me.
“To be rich is to have access to health, clean air, clean food. So redefining what it means to be luxurious is the conversation I’d like this brand to start.”
So, moving on to the importance of NAZ - why is it so important for NAZ to exist, especially in Kuwait and the Middle East?
So the [Gulf Cooperation Council, or] GCC is very unique. [Kuwait] is a third-world country, but income per capita is incredibly high. People are well off. So nothing is more jarring than being around a country that has poor infrastructure, but at the same time, very rich people. The consumerism is in full force. I hate to use negative words like ugly, but it is the flip side of something that’s beautiful. And I think, for a while, just to be more inclusive in my thought, instead of demonizing people who consume, wear something once and throw it, [or] use plastic in an excessive amount because it’s ‘cleaner’ to use something once and throw it - and you always see it in poor countries, where people from a high socioeconomic background have a distinct and really jarring consumerist behavior. And I don’t think that’s ‘rich’ - [instead], we have to redefine what being rich is. For me, the absolute, ultimate luxury is mother nature. It’s not what I put on my back, it’s respecting nature. To be rich is to have access to health, clean air, clean food. So redefining what it means to be luxurious is the conversation I’d like this brand to start.
Along the same lines, why do you think it’s so important or significant in relation to women empowerment?
Again, every single day, we make a choice on how we present ourselves. To do that, we present ourselves before speaking up, which is the way we appear. I think our clothes do say a lot about us, whether you follow a minimalist approach, whether you make a choice on what to buy based on how it’s done, how it’s made, the colors that you choose, and I think having these options are quite empowering, don’t you think?
Yes, definitely! So why do you think it’s so important, lastly, in relation to fast fashion and protecting our environment?
I mean, I was one of those people who was proud to, if someone said, “I like your shirt, I like your blouse”, I’d proudly be like, “it’s only 20 dollars!” And I was proud of myself, because we want to be smart about our purchases, right? I think getting a good deal is a smart thing, until I realized, from a business point of view, what their operating model is based on. It’s about producing, and the commercialization of fashion really started 20-25 years ago, H&M, Zara, Mango, a lot of these Spanish brands. And you start breaking down the numbers, and you’re just like, how? How could the richest man in the world be selling me a shirt for ten dollars, and be the richest man? It makes no sense! The logistics make no sense. There is a hidden cost, if you don’t mind me using that phrase from the Netflix documentary. The number one thing is first of all the human cost, and then the environmental cost. Once I started recognizing that, it started to really impact my decision making. It’s a journey, by the way, that I took completely on my own. I’m not very extreme, and this is also part of my messaging - if we all do something, not everything, we would all collectively have a positive impact. There is the occasional time where we’re in a restaurant and, you know, we get plastic straws! My kids start using it, and we have a conversation about it. I won’t stop them, but by the next week, they’ll know how to make the right choice. It’s the same with clothing.
There was a time where I was desperate about finding the right clothing item, and the more I got into that ecosystem, I recognized how fast fashion is harmful for people, the environment, and for the creative integrity of the styling houses - the stylists and designers. So everyone was being impacted by [fast fashion]. I mean, again, the idea is not to make people into villains, but I think there’s a lot that they can do. They’re attempting, now, to use commercialized sustainability in a really ugly manner. But their operating model is dependent upon them manufacturing all this clothing, and having new items [in] their stores every single week. We all want new things, they just don’t need to be manufactured brand new for me. I will go into someone else’s closet and wear something that’s been worn many times. I’ve borrowed from my mother, my friends, and still feel as gorgeous and as beautiful, if it feels and fits well, as if it was something store-bought. But now, I understand what’s going [on] behind that decision, and that’s why fast fashion has really let us down. And that’s why we have to counteract that. I do believe that there’s a profitable customer out there, it’s just that the messaging has to be correct.
I really do agree with you, when I wear something my mother used to wear or own, it just has this sentimental value that is really special.
“...the reason fast fashion has been so successful is that they give access, at a very low cost, [to] items that give you variety, novelty, and experimentation. So we’re just giving that other option and saying hey, you can get what you crave from fast fashion, but under a different operating model.”
So NAZ’s key message is to ‘redefine your statement’. What is the meaning behind such a message?
So again, the first thing we’re trying to do is changing consumer behavior. We’re not telling people that what you’re doing is wrong, per se, we’re just telling them that there’s this other option, and there’s this way to explore it. The brand is really about educating people and impacting the way that they make decisions and consume. You don’t want to tell people to change, but you want to challenge them. It’s a call to action. You have to re-define what it means to be rich, to wear something luxurious, to be feminine, to be empowered, to change your style. A part of it is also having fun and experimenting. For example, a big movement in sustainable fashion is the minimalist approach, and I have so much respect for that. Yet, the reason fast fashion has been so successful is that they give access, at a very low cost, [to] items that give you variety, novelty, and experimentation. So we’re just giving that other option and saying hey, you can get what you crave from fast fashion, but under a different operating model.
And not run out of room in your closet. [laughs]
Exactly! Why not, you know, have a wardrobe that we are all a part of, and all have access to?
So just going back to women empowerment, you spoke a bit earlier about femininity and how your relationship with the word changed as the years went by. So today, what does femininity mean to you?
I think, really, the juxtaposition of two seemingly different elements, for example, strength and vulnerability is incredibly beautiful. Beauty and awkwardness, if you put them together, is really beautiful. Like the most beautiful women I can think of have no idea how beautiful they are and they’re incredibly awkward, and I think that’s just breathtaking. Femininity is also being vulnerable, and I think your strength comes from that vulnerability. It’s what makes us human, being multifaceted and being inclusive and being different is what makes us feminine.
That’s really great. When I was younger, I felt like I had to dress more like a boy to feel strong, and I think in university, when I was by myself, I realized how clothing could make me feel, which is super great to explore. I really think NAZ is really facilitating that exploration of femininity and what it means to be empowered.
Yeah, that resonates with me a lot! Like I told you, I have three brothers, and three cousins, all male. I was really into sports, and I have a running joke - I’m 39 now, so I always say I’ve been a tomboy until the age of 37. [laughs] When I was a teenager, and even younger than that, my mom had to fight with me to put on a dress. Now, that’s something I revel in, something I actually look forward to, because for me to fit in with my ‘squad’ [before], I had to be an athlete, tomboyish. I had to act a certain way, and for me to act that way I had to dress a certain way, because that’s how I presented myself to the world - whether it’s my parents, people [whose] opinions I cared about, like my brothers, or just people around me.
So aside from having access to really beautiful pieces and an expanded wardrobe, what do you want your clientele to gain or learn from using NAZ?
So, I’ll tell you what some of my clients have told me. One of the things that I loved hearing is, I started off thinking that there’s going to be a lot of confidentiality around this, [that] people wouldn’t want others to know that [items they’ve worn] are rented. In the beginning, there [was some] of that, but across all ages, they’ve taken so much pride in it. Some of the most amazing things I’ve heard from more than a few clients were, “this isn’t really my style, go ahead and rent this skirt”. They’re playing with things that they normally wouldn’t. [Another] one of the things I’ve heard is that now, they can focus on buying and investing in things. It’s no longer “let me take it and throw it away”, they can invest in the basics and rent the rest. I’ve been inundated with requests for brands they want me to carry, because they just want to depend on NAZ. [And] of course, the requests for evening items. The cost of evening wear is so expensive - I will cry if I have to buy another evening dress - It’s just way too expensive, I wear it once or twice, and then it just sits there collecting dust in my wardrobe. So this is something that, again, is about representing a choice, and having the clients determine their use and reason of use - [be it] shopping, wearing things, presenting yourself, making a choice of what you’re going to wear everyday. It’s a complex, emotional experience, and I think emotions are non-negotiable. I can’t tell people how [to] feel, but I’ve been hearing about how they felt, and it’s been very diverse, and really exceptional.
“I think the toxicity comes from the fashion industry saying “buy this now,” and after six months, saying, “buy that now,” but if we no longer care about when an item is worn as long as it’s pretty, speaks to you personally, is in good shape - and even if it’s not, it could be upcycled, it could be recycled - we could still continue [to use] this material to re-invent its own story.”
Great! So, just on the darker side of things - the fashion industry can oftentimes be really toxic. It tells people they need to change their bodies, or dress or look a certain way to fit in. How do you feel about that darker side of the fashion industry, and how, if at all, does NAZ fit into the solution?
I’ll give you an example of sitting with designers and retailers and trying to build my inventory - so [they], especially retailers, are caught up with the ‘seasonal items’. And that’s the thing, they tell you, the industry tells you, certain influencers tell you, this is what’s in right now, and then they want to fit everyone in that mold, so everyone buys this hot item to look a certain way, but then it becomes out of fashion. I think this is the root [of the problem], because they just want to make sales in that period of time. And when I sit with retailers, and they say, “we’re going to charge you this amount for items that were in season a season, two seasons ago”, I keep on saying I don’t care, as long as the item is gorgeous. So just the idea that creativity expires, or is seasonal, is absurd to me. Now, I do respect how different seasons allow different designers to reinvent their conversation with fashion, but I don’t think there should be a time limit on it. I think the toxicity comes from the fashion industry saying “buy this now,” and after six months, saying, “buy that now,” but if we no longer care about when an item is worn as long as it’s pretty, speaks to you personally, is in good shape - and even if it’s not, it could be upcycled, it could be recycled - we could still continue [to use] this material to re-invent its own story.
Awesome - so what do you think drives a successful brand, and what about NAZ will secure its longevity?
Staying true to its ethos. The more I get into the ecosystem, I recognize that a lot of the existing operating models are not financially viable. So I think we just need to stick to our core, continue to give people options, choices, [and] access, at a reduced cost. Looking beautiful, feeling amazing, consuming consciously, that’s really at the core of what we do. And I’ll continue listening to the customers and to see what they want, and re-invent myself while sticking to our core ethos.
And how do you think the circular economy model ties in to NAZ, and how is NAZ an example perhaps inspiring others to adopt the same sort of model?
So right now, one percent of all textiles manufactured [are] being reused in the economy. That is a very low percentage, and it’s really really sad. So I think the first thing is changing consumer behavior. We would like people to put more thought into choices that they make, and I think that eventually, [those choices] would be an important cog in a circular economy.
Okay, so just one last question: for those who don’t have access to a service like NAZ, but want to explore their identity through clothing on a budget, what advice do you have?
Educate yourself first before you buy something. Understand that there are different elements of cost, price, and value. If we can unbundle what those three concepts mean, it’s up to you, the consumer, on how to spend your hard-earned money, and make sure that you put a lot of thought into knowing that your hard-earned money goes towards something that [doesn’t] have a hidden cost or human cost behind it. Think of whatever you buy as an investment, something that you could wear over and over again. Ultimately, we [at NAZ hope to] have a very deep inventory where we are able to service all budgets in a way that makes sense.
Thank you so much for speaking with me! It’s been so great to learn about your inspirations, and how much of your personal identity and experiences have gone into the creation of this brand. I do hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday!
Thank you so much!
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