In Turkey, women's empowerment is in fashion

Mar 1, 2010

A cooperative owner and worker prepares garments for Istanbul Fashion Week
(Photo: UNDP

In Turkey’s southeast Anatolia region, where only 3 per cent of women are engaged in paid labour, UNDP and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) are supporting hundreds of women to become fashion entrepreneurs, forming and owning their own cooperative. In a pro bono partnership with key fashion designers and Turkey’s leading retailer, MUDO, nearly 150 women are being trained in business skills, like sales and marketing, and in technical skills such as design, cutting and sewing. The women draw inspiration for their designs from traditional regional motifs. The collection Argande – the name of a beautiful goddess and ruler of ancient Mesopotamia – was launched in February 2010 at Istanbul Fashion Week and is already a hit in high-end stores in the country.

“Not only do these designers have good pieces, but this project makes us feel that we are doing something good. We do not get any of the profits and we do not charge any fees,” said Ömer Tavlioğlu, MUDO Board Member. “The project has changed the lives of hundreds of women in the Southeast.”

“I feel my family and friends respect me now because I am earning money,” said one of the entrepreneurs, who has joined Argande only 6 months ago. “Before I started working my family used to put me down, treating girls – destined to sit at home –very differently than boys. Whatever I did was considered inappropriate and sinful. Now that I earn as much as a man, I feel respected and I can go anywhere I want.”

“I believe it was the first time we were able to realize how valuable we are,” added another young businesswoman. “When working with the designers, there were challenges at first because we were unsure we would be able to meet their expectations. But when we started working and making beautiful garments, we gained self-confidence. Now we believewe can accomplish anything.”

“The project is done by women for women,” said Gonul Sulargil, UNDP Project Manager. “We provide financial support - supplying machinery and raw materials.  We offer technical advice on the design to ensure the ‘marketability’of the clothes. We are also working with the female entrepreneurs to set up and structure their cooperative,” he added.

The design and production process of the Argande collectionis taking place in ateliers, or workshops, set up in multi-purpose community centers in Batman and Mardin Ömerli, cities of the predominantly Kurdish southeast Turkey.  The collection is now being sold at Istanbul’s prestigious shopping malls and 17 stores in seven provinces in Turkey.

One of Turkey’s lead fashion designers, Hatice Gökçe, added that the Argande Collection also revived two forgotten traditional fabrics, the woven fabric kutnu and the 100 percent wool woven fabric selşapik.

"Selşapik is a very special fabric,” she said. “There were only four craftsmen producing it. With Argande, this number rose to 20.”

In preparation for the Istanbul Fashion show, MUDO Company also provided support in marketing for the brand, while photographer Gencer Baybek, make-up artist Derya Ergun and model Ahu Yagtu, also donated their services pro bono.

The project, Innovations for Women’s Empowerment in the GAP Region, was implemented jointly by UNDP Turkey and the GAP Regional Development Administration, financed by SIDA.

Watch the Argande Collection at the Istanbul Fashion Week:

Pictures: The complete Argande Collection

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