Begum Ozturk and Duygu Ozturk, Part I

May 22, 2019

Begum Ozturk and Duygu Ozturk, Part I

Begum Ozturk and Duygu Ozturk
Founders, Harem London
Location: London, UK

Sisters Begum and Duygu Ozturk launched their brand Harem London in 2015 by looking to both their Turkish and British heritages as inspiration. Starting with luxurious Turkish Hammam towels and bathrobes, the brand grew to include resort wear and now, Harem London has expanded to feature one of a kind women's streetwear. Sustainability came naturally for the brand with the use of organic cotton from the fields of Anatolia, and by collaborating with Turkish artisans, at the brand's core. With the growing demand for their streetwear with a Turkish twist, the brand will soon be expanding even further to also include menswear.

With Duygu's background in design and Begum's business management experience, the sisters have not only taken their cross-cultural upbringing, but have also combined their individual strengths to overcome all the many challenges that arise with launching and growing a fashion brand. Initial rejection and setbacks further motivated Duygu and Begum to forge ahead, grow with their brand and learn something new every day. Inspired by strong, independent and successful women, the sisters prove that by sticking to your vision and challenging yourself, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.

The Brand
The low down - about their brand, in their own words
Duygu (D): Harem London is a London born women's streetwear brand with a Turkish twist. The twist comes from the geometric inspired cuts and our own original 100% cotton fabric.
Begum (B): Our aim was to appeal to independent working women who appreciate art and quality. Funnily enough, after launching our Winter Collection, we realised that there's a huge men's demand as well, so now we are also working on our menswear collection for next year.
 
How would you say your brand reflects you?
D: We were born and raised in Istanbul half of our lives and been living in London for the second half. Our brand is a perfect fusion of our two cultures, as well as ourselves.
B: I would also say that Harem London reflects our sisterhood as well. We are two sisters who are very close but with completely different characters.
 
What motivated you to launch it and more than that, to make it sustainable?
B: We started off with only 100% organic cotton hammam towels. And one day, my sister came up with this crazy idea to make clothes out of them, because it is a great natural material, environmentally-friendly and it's a breathing material, which would make anyone wearing it feel very comfortable. Sustainability for Harem London became very natural. While the hammam towels come from local suppliers in Turkey, the garments are made in London.
D: I studied costume design in London and had been working freelance after I graduated. After a few years, I felt like I should start my own business and I was lucky my sister studied Business Management. I guess it was the perfect match! We are made for each other!

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It's About the Journey
The early days, how your career started
D: Our Harem life started in 2015, when we first launched 100% organic cotton Turkish Hammam Towels and bathrobes. We then wanted to do something more interesting and creative, so we created the beach line. That was not enough so we decided to come up with a Winter line too! We go with the flow, we feel free to do what creatively satisfies us and makes our customers curious every season.
B: For me, I would never make this without my sister. To be completely honest with you, after earning my Masters degree in Business Management and Consumer Behaviour, my career goals were more corporate. However, working with my sister, seeing her designs and her making process, and of course seeing satisfied customers, it motivated me to completely devote myself to Harem London.
 
Comedy of errors - one day, I'll look back and laugh at this (which I can now)
D: We had a lot of rejections when we first started. I personally look back sometimes and laugh at them because they never managed to stop us. We never gave up.
B: Yes, I laugh at our first days as well. You grow with the brand. Every day teaches you something new.
Blindside - what you didn't know and wish you had going into it
B: That the early days will be difficult but you'll find your core identity in the end, if you don't give up.
D: To be honest, I never think of blindsides if i really want to do something. I just go for it and move with the flow if the idea really excites me. I am crazy about finding out more of it every day.
 
What keeps you busy, what's currently on your plate?
B: I am more focused on new collaborations and new pop up shops at the moment. Because we are online based, we love going around London and opening pop up shops where we can meet our returning customers and new customers alike. I love meeting with our customers face to face because it's priceless to see them happily wearing our products. It's always a surprise where our next pop up shop is but we announce them on our social media platforms.
D: For me, design takes up more time in my life, which I absolutely adore! Our summer stock is being made in the studio, so we don't have free weekends. It's pretty much work work work. There is never a normal day for me nowadays, but I cannot complain. I love every second of it. We work with really talented girls in the studio who have great team spirit, which is a motivation on its own.
 
The best "advice" that you DIDN'T follow
D: For me that is an easy question. I was told many times to concentrate on making "loungewear" or casual "home wear". I never took the advice because that simply does not excite me. I want to push my limits, to make something super original, which is on the way - super soon! I am very excited to reveal it.
B: I will second that! You feel when you hear advice that doesn't appeal to you, you instantly know it in your core.
...But Make It Fashion
Your first fashion memory and forever favourite fashion item/s
B: Long cardigans
D: Converse shoes! My mum hates me for this.
 
What do you like and dislike most about fashion?
D: I both love and hate the fact that what you wear identifies your character. I agree and disagree with this at the same time. I think it's a beautiful conflict.
B: I hate when there's a trend and everyone wears the same thing. Everyone looks identical! There is no originality in that. But I love finding clothes or accessories that I feel comfortable or happy in. I feel like I just found a hidden treasure.
 
Who inspires you in life and in fashion?
D: Strong and independent women has always inspired me all my life. I want to dress them.
B: Yeah, I love strong successful working women who are on top of the world but are still working, like Anna Wintour or Amal Clooney. It's about being productive. It's a huge satisfaction.

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Let's Get a Bit Personal
Full speed ahead - what keeps you going, what's next?
B: To produce, to be productive always gets me going.
D: The idea of proving myself to me first - what I can achieve when I put in even more effort. The people around me is my biggest motivation.
 
The milestones, the moments that make it all worth it
B: Compliments from customers or people who come to our pop up shops. It's priceless.
D: Getting unexpected support from someone who isn't easily convinced with things or on what I make - this was the biggest milestone yet. We recently experienced this, and I cannot explain how I feel now.
 
Words to live by
B: "Fortune favours the bold."
D: "Self respect is the best outfit, don't lose it."
 
The Dream
D: Running into women who wear Harem London on the street more often.
B: I'd second that. And of course to open Harem London flagship store.
 
At the end of the day...
D: A quality sleep is ALL you need. (haha sorry I had to be ironic here)
B: Yes, relax! You made it through the day. 😊

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Continue reading Part II of Begum and Duygu's feature here.
All media courtesy of Begum Ozturk, Duygu Ozturk and Harem London.

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