|Graduate Entrepreneur creates Criminal Clothing
Reza Dehghani changes the fashion world
Graduate Reza Dehghani a Media School Graduate has become one of the fashion world's most successful entrepreneurs.
Former Bournemouth University student Reza Dehghani is founder of the Poole-based global brand Criminal clothing, which supplies 1700 retailers worldwide and has an annual turnover of £10 million. Criminal is well known for its streetwear collections, provocative slogans, and no-advertising policy.
BA (Hons) International Marketing graduate Reza started working on the brand independently during his last year at university, making use of his connections in the fashion industry. He started off creating merchandise such as caps and t-shirts for Slinky club nights and just months after graduation, in 1999 registered his bedroom-run company.
Shortly after going into partnership with friend Wayne Collins, who ran Bournemouth clothing store M2, Reza came up with the Criminal brand name. A global brand was born.
Reza started working on the brand, Criminal, independently during his last year at university
"The vision for a global brand was there right from the beginning studying at university. I remember doing a case study on Virgin and whether Virgin Cola was going to be a success or not, which I said no to. And I didn’t get a very good mark! So the idea really sparked off from the course and from studying."
Thirty-year-old Reza says he aspired to create a global brand because of his interest in languages, culture and love of travel. "Nowadays, with fast communication and ease of travel, it’s far easier to break international barriers rather than simply your own nation."
The brand instead relies on word-of-mouth and the policy, which has become an effective marketing strategy in itself, allowing the brand to develop on its own merits
As part of his professional placement, Reza went to the South of France for six months and there met a young man whose parents were in the fashion industry, and who inspired him to get involved in fashion himself.
So from humble beginnings in his bedroom to a fully-fledged global brand. But Reza admits it hasn't been always been easy. "The first show that we did, Forty Degrees, a show organised by Emap, we were expecting to raise £40,000. That was our target. And we raised £400,000. Everybody said that was amazing, but when you've got no computers, no offices, no money, it's a major, major struggle. So out of the £400,000 we only delivered £120,000 of it."
Surprisingly for a marketing graduate, Reza decided early on to not make use of traditional advertising methods, half-jokingly stating this was "due to lack of money." The brand instead relies on word-of-mouth and the policy, which has become an effective marketing strategy in itself, allowing the brand to develop on its own merits.
Says Reza: "I've always thought if you can't do something well don't do it at all. The only thing I believe in is very much a real relationship between brands and the consumer. Advertising is a fairly forced relationship."
At one of my first meetings with my bank manager he asked for my balance sheet, and I thought, I remember this from university! So all those kids out there, pay attention, it does come in handy!"
After two years of trying to secure the deal, Reza received a very special birthday present on his thirtieth birthday last year, when up-and-coming investment company Baugur injected £6 million into the company. "It was amazing," Reza says.
The move left him once again in total control of the company, Collins having sold his share. Reza adds: "We're looking to build this company all the way to £100 million. I hope the vision remains mine." And it looks like his target may not be far off. Criminal's annual turnover currently stands at £10 million, a figure that has doubled in the last two years.
So will success result in the inevitable relocation to the bright lights and big city? London, perhaps? "The pressure to move to London is definitely increasing, there's so much more of a global audience in the city." But Reza admits the south has a certain something. "When our foreign guests come here they absolutely love it. It's a great place, by the sea." He says there is a much more relaxing environment in the town, and having fun is integral to the company's spirit. "In terms of Bournemouth's feeling and vibe it's a party place. And that has definitely come through in the brand."
And the town has helped in many other ways, too. "Bournemouth lacks a lot of resources, but it does have a very good fashion school, and we've had good access to marketing students and business school students. Eighty-per-cent of the company's staff come from Bournemouth University."
Criminal, which has Bournemouth and London stores, and is looking to open three more, is well known for its provocative slogans featuring rather colourful language. "Controversial, provoking, and unconventional. That's our message," says Reza.
You create your own luck. It helps if things you do work out, but you have to create your own luck. You've just gotta get on with it. Keep going, just don't give up
"Criminal has almost given us a ticket to be really true, to express what we really feel and what we want to do. With the brand we're really trying to express the sentiments of youth, the new generation. It's all about bringing fun to life, without being derogatory or abusive. And being real."
Despite his significant frustration at having to study business finance as part of his degree course, it paid off. "At one of my first meetings with my bank manager he asked for my balance sheet, and I thought, I remember this from university! So all those kids out there, pay attention, it does come in handy!" The fashion industry is not an easy one to break. "At first you're quite excited, then you see how fickle it is, then you see business is all the same, same people, different natures."
Reza, who sees the company progressing "onwards and upwards", gives useful advice to future generations striving for success. "You create your own luck. It helps if things you do work out, but you have to create your own luck. You've just gotta get on with it. Keep going, just don't give up. It's like running. You have to get over the pain barrier!"
Story by Natalie Harrison
MA Multi-Media Journalism