Istanbul’s women creatives are thriving. Encouraged by a shared dream to break conventional gender roles, the city’s female designers, ceramicists, florists and brand creators have certainly made a name at home but are now beginning to showcase their talents abroad. With a strong social media presence that both inspires and connects, Istanbul’s young creatives are also seeing a surge in support programs that specifically target local entrepreneurship and budding businesses. With world famous department stores such as Galeries Lafayette or Harvey Nichols already selling the latest Turkish designs, there’s no better time for female entrepreneurs to take a risk and pursue a life outside the usual nine-to-five.
The Empowering Bag Designer
İpek Kocatepe designs gorgeous accessories for her brand Bago that exude all the glamour of a luxury tropical getaway. Think of clutches made from 100% woven palm leaf, with natural coral and malachite clasps, or a minaudiere composed entirely of natural mother of pearl. But the best part about Kocatepe, who interned at Diane Von Furstenberg in New York before returning to Istanbul, is her ethical and nature-loving approach to fashion. Apart from only using 100% natural materials, every purchase supports and empowers the artisan women in the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil and Turkey who make them.
The Artistic Ceramicist
It was during her time working at Monet’s Garden in Giverny that Zehra Balcı amassed a particular dose of inspiration that helped her create Maitoinen. Of course, it didn’t happen right away, as Balcı spent time working at a florist, bread bakery, botanic garden and kitchen, before opening her own ceramic studio and shop. Much more than a line of handcrafted ceramics, Maitoinen is an ode to imbuing everyday objects with a personal and loving touch. The result is kitchenware that is subtle in its beauty, with unique colorful touches that sometimes remind one of the watercolors of a certain Impressionist.
The Mindful Fashion Designer
After years of unhappily working in the fast fashion industry, the idea of creating clothes that would inevitably end up at a landfill inspired Aylin Erel to create a sustainable fashion brand based on timeless designs. And so, A Hidden Bee was born, detached from trends and strict about fabric sourcing, creating conscious collections produced in small amounts and never in a rush to sell out its stocks. Erel’s designs have a Scandinavian temperament, with belted long wool coats, oversized high-necked sweaters and loose Cupro button-downs, all in demure colors that reflect the natural world they aim to preserve.
After studying architecture and working as an architect for a while, Yasemin Özeri changed course and started her own clothing brand. Inspired by the simple and rational lines of architectonic forms, her collections are minimalist and functional and express Özeri’s belief in the importance of form, comfort and quality. An important constituent in Istanbul’s current ‘less is more,’ movement, the Özeri garment prefers white, gray and beige tones and is exclusively handmade from natural fabrics in small ateliers in Istanbul.
The Pioneering Accessories Expert
One of Turkey’s first independent bag labels, Ayşe Özgüneş’s Çuval has survived the test of time by being adaptable to changing tastes and needs. After studying and working in Philadelphia, Özgüneş returned to Istanbul to create her contemporary accessories brand with the aim of supporting local craftsmanship. Each Çuval bag is unique and handmade by Turkish craftsmen in Istanbul and thoroughly express Özgüneş’s playful, functional and sustainable concept. Pebbled-nubuck bucket bags or vegetable tanned leather belt bags come in earthy tones while soft leather wallet clutches make a statement in purple or hot pink.
The Jewelry Artisan
When Banu Kent returned to Istanbul after years of living in Amsterdam, she found herself in the Grand Bazaar learning traditional jewelry craftsmanship from one of the few remaining goldsmith masters. Her own brand der-liebling came to life soon after, and Kent has been creating collections that simultaneously possess something antique and mystic. Delicate gold and gemstone rings meant to be worn on at least two fingers a time, earrings inspired by autumn flora and custom-made lapis pendant necklaces with small golden stars compose the der-liebling universe.
The Botanist Queen
After abandoning the corporate world, Ayça Girgin decided to change her life by doing an apprenticeship at an established florist and later creating her own floral design brand. Vesaire is an ode to Girgin’s botanist grandmother who introduced her to nature’s magical essence in her childhood. Her designs are a celebration of nature’s overarching beauty, especially within its endearing imperfections, and many a young Istanbul couple have relied on Girgin to turn their wedding into a kind of floral wonderland. Not to say that a simple potted succulent or a bouquet of seasonal blooms aren’t also part of her charms.
Altered Text: Conde Nast Traveller, April 2020