Turkey’s textile and apparel manufacturing has long been considered one of the country’s most successful industries. Decades have passed and the country has transformed from a textile manufacturer to a high-end fashion hub in the region, thanks to a new generation of Turkish designers and entrepreneurs. Part of the official Fashion Week calendar since 2010, Istanbul is quickly gaining reputation as a thriving fashion capitol connecting East and West.
Like all cosmopolitan centers, Istanbul has a creative scene unique to itself, inspired by the quirks of its people and city life. It is home to a large population of skilled artists and craftsmen, giving designers the opportunity to access a scala of talent to incorporate in their work. A bridge between East and West, designers are able to draw inspiration from a variety of influences and have come up with a unique fashion language of their own, mixing Eastern and Western cultures, juxtaposing tradition with modernity. From the mosaic couture dresses of Dice Kayek and the vivacious scarfs of TukuTukum and the woven intricacies of Serena Uziyel, the impact of this melting pot of ideas results into fashion from the very sleek and elegant, to the wild avant-garde.
In terms of identity, the concept of ‘Turkish fashion’ is still very open to interpretation. Many young Turkish designers get to explore their heritage while studying abroad, mixing cultural heritage with Western codes of design to redefine what ‘Turkishness’ or ‘Turkish design’ means to them. “Unfortunately, most of us are still label lovers. We love those big European luxury labels, follow the big trends and you’ll find many stylish women out on the streets. But in terms of a Turkish aesthetic or a “design identity”, though things are looking up, we are still in process of defining what this means,” says Tugba Kuzdere founder and designer at TukuTukum. And while some choose to stay, many designers return to help establish Turkey’s young but flourishing domestic fashion industry. A leading example is Zeynep Tosun. Having worked at Alberta Ferretti, Tosun started her own label in 2008 and returned to Istanbul where she has been designing gowns for the likes of Lady gaga and Nicole Sherzinger.
Tugba finished her masters in Milan, where she landed a prestigious role at Ugo Cacciatori, and later the Costume National, before she decided to return to Istanbul. Not long after her arrival she launched Lamodaist, an initiative aimed to help emerging Turkish designers to develop their brands on the local market. “I wanted to use all the knowledge and experience I had obtained abroad in to providing creative business tools for upcoming and established designers in the Turkish market and during this period I was able to work with several local brands and talented designers as a fashion consultant.” Three years at the helm of Lamodaist, she decided to pursue her ultimate dream of starting her own luxury fashion label.
“TukuTukum is a playful rendition of my name. I have always been fascinated by fun, playful and phonetic names.” Known for its extravagant silk scarfs for the modern stylish woman, the label is quickly becoming Turkey’s number one luxury accessory brand. “Scarfs are a woman’s best travel friend. I like to see them as an empty canvas, one where you can show your inner feelings and soul through various colours and prints, a piece of wearable art that you can wear in many different ways by using your creativity.” The inspiration behind every collection varies from contemporary art, cultural heritage and fragments of everyday hopes and dreams. Signature to Tugba’s designs are playful illustrations, mixing Eastern and Western iconography with vivacious colours, communicating bittersweet messages of hope, love, heartache and courage. Honouring traditional and local crafts, each piece is hand-finished, working with skilled locals with generations of expertise in silk and textile craftsmanship and only using natural and organic materials.
Having been covered in Elle, Marie Claire and Vogue, TukuTukum’s popularity continues to grow and Tugba is optimistic about the future, but it hasn’t always been easy. Turkey isn’t exactly a country known for embracing gender equality. Just in 2016, the country ranked 130 out of 144 in the World Just in 2016, the country ranked 130 out of 144 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report. “It is not easy to be an entrepreneur in Turkey. Simply put, you’re success depends on whether you’re a man or a woman.” Though female-led businesses are relatively common in the major cities of the Turkey, currently women only count for 9% of the country’s entrepreneurs, with their biggest obstacle being limited to zero access to funds due to gender discrimination, according to Arya, a leading Turkish Women Investments Platform. “I was lucky to meet Mrs. Ahu Serter. She is the founder of Arya women investments platform and it is thanks to this sister-friendly environment that I was able to overcome these obstacles and pursue my dream.” Arya is one of the many female empowering platforms that have been rising across the country to help women overturn social and gender-based obstacles on their path to success. And it works, from fashion startups to health and sports centers; women are helping women to close the country’s rigid gender gap.
Like many sectors in Turkey, its fashion industry too used to be predominantly male, but this has been changing since the turn of the millennium. The number of female designers continues to increase and driven by ambitious women, it is slowly transforming in to a women’s world, with fashion playing a key role in empowerment and emancipation.
Time will tell how the country’s current political climate will impact Istanbul’s young, female-friendly and ambitious fashion industry, but Turkish fashion is here to stay and it is up to the next generation of designers to built further upon its identity. As for Tugba’s ambitions for the future; “I wish for peace, for the world and my country, because ultimately you need peace to do good business, and then I would like to open a shop in Istanbul and hope to expand retail internationally.” Tukutukum’s next collection Tropical Geometry will launch this summer, featuring limited edition illustrations of renowned Argentinian illustrator Mariano Pascual.