Although he was born into an affluent family, fashion designer Behnood Javaherpour, 35, says he began his career without help from his parents. Instead, he relied on a combination of charm, chutzpah and personal friendships to get started as a fabric broker. He then went to the Politecnico di Milano, where he studied international business, and later on to Instituto Marangoni. Since that early start in fabrics, he has built a group of companies that he says is worth €500 million (Dh613.5m), bought homes around the world and is now working towards early retirement.
The founder and creative director of Behnoode Clothing, Behnoode Home and the Behnoode Foundation moved to Dubai in 2012 and lives in Downtown Dubai when in the UAE, and in Italy and Iran.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up between Iran and Italy in an affluent family who were into textiles and design. My father was a pioneer in designing and producing camping equipment and my mother was an antique dealer who was also involved in the textile world. Despite that, my father always told me I needed to work for myself.
When did you begin working? What was your first job?
At the age of 15, I found a way to trade fabrics from Italy to Iran and the UAE. There are a number of big producers in Italy, and with the help of a lawyer, a business card and website, I was able to persuade one of them to sell me €25,000 worth of fabric for a client in Iran. I had already been paid in advance! It was easier to build out from there.
How did that come about?
Friendship. Everything starts with friendship. When I was young, I preferred having older friends as I felt I could learn from their experiences. That helped with my business, too.
What was your first big break?
At the age of 18, I sold a large quantity of fabric from a Turkish supplier to a Spanish company for $1m.
What would you say was your greatest financial challenge?
My greatest financial challenge was saving the €2,000 I needed as a teenager to start my Behnoode brand, and then to keep it running. I was able to save money from my business as a fabric broker. To minimise initial costs, I was my own brand ambassador. People would ask where my suit was from and I told them I would make it for them. That’s how my business began in 2005 in Italy.
How did you build your business into a €500m group of companies?
I am the chief executive of nine companies, which include being an art dealer and property investor, however, my clothing line is my passion. I started very small and once I made some profit, I started investing in art and properties. This allowed me to develop my brand further and invest more in its marketing. Along the way, I started selling European horses to buyers in Dubai and Iran. These worlds brought new customers to my fashion brand. A particular success has been collaborating with artists to design jackets with their art, a process that can take up to four to five months because of the hand weaving techniques involved. I then sell each unique piece to my affluent clients who can pay up to €150,000 for that collector’s item.
Did you have any family help along the way?
I had no financial support from my family. I am also a very independent person and wanted to make my own financial decisions. The more people involved in your business decisions, the more diluted your brand will become. I wanted the freedom to decide where and how I would invest and that included the risk taking too.
What was your first big investment?
My factory in Naples, for which I paid €140,000 in 2012. Since then, I have expanded the space into a €500,000 production space where I produce my Behnoode lines of shoes and home furniture. This factory will also be the base for my future lines of eyewear, scarves and perfumes.
Where did you buy your first home?
It was a 125-square-metre apartment in the downtown area of Salerno in Italy that I bought at the age of 19. I paid €45,000 in cash for it, using money from the business.
What else do you invest in?
Besides properties, my investments include art, horses and sometimes limited-edition watches, too.
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business?
Behnoode, my clothing line, was impacted by the coronavirus. However, I still had my private clients who were buying suits from me constantly. My fashion sales dropped around 60 per cent, but I was able to use the time to concentrate on my philanthropy work. Knowing that people have lost so much, I wanted to give back to them. All the revenue generated from my autumn/winter Beauty Behind The Barriers collection will go to help children in Nepal.
How has your personal financial position changed during the pandemic?
I have always been financially savvy. I am spending and investing less during this pandemic.
What is your most cherished purchase?
A Picasso painting that I absolutely adore and will never sell. This painting represents my journey and all the hard work that went into building my brand. My horses are a cherished purchase too – I have six.
Where and how do you save?
I am very careful with my finances. I spend on things I need and admire. [Long term, I plan] to continue investing in art and property and develop Behnoode into a global lifestyle brand.
Where would you like to retire?
I have homes around the world, so I would probably retire in one of them … My dream is to retire at 40 and travel the world and build schools in underprivileged countries. I am currently building a school in Nepal and an academy in Kashan, Iran, to teach young adults the art of weaving and loom design. I want to ensure that they have a secure future.
What has been your proudest financial moment?
Selling a painting for millions at a Christie’s auction.
Do you have any financial regrets?
Not at all. I am very analytical. In business or personally, I invest understanding that there is a risk involved.
How much cash do you have in your wallet right now?
I only have my credit cards as due to Covid-19, everyone is going cash-free.
What car do you drive?
A Ferrari Spider and a Rolls Royce, which my chauffeur drives.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
Invest wisely and take calculated risks. I would tell my younger self to have fun doing it as I can be very serious.