As we know from our own coverage of the market, Turkey is a hotbed for new and notable fashion design. Not only does the country have a rich history in textile and clothing production--Mavi denim is based there, for instance--but a ton of luxury brands are looking to Turkey for its high quality manufacturing combined with reasonable pricing.
Axel Burla and Begum Tuna, designers of the three-season-strong label Beatrixe, are well-suited to take advantage of Turkey's offerings. Not only are they both from the country, but their aim with Beatrixe is to create luxurious clothes at a non-scary price. (Leather shorts, for instance, are $345. Expensive, but not insane.)
We caught up with the two designers over breakfast to learn more about how they're making it.
Fashionista: How did you two meet? Begum: We were childhood friends. We met at a very young age in Istanbul. Then we both studied in the US--him at Parsons, me at Brown. Right after college i started working in sales at Devi Kroell, and then Axel started there, too.
Axel: I spent time at Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, and then I came to Devi Kroll as the art director.
And then you decided to launch a collection together. What was the process like? Begum: We did our business plan, and then Axel had to go serve in the Turkish military for six months. [A requirement for Turkish citizens.] And when he came back we went to work.
How did you know what to put in your business plan? Begum: I studied economics [at Brown], and I took business classes, so I knew how to structure it. And I had the opportunity to watch Devi build a business from the ground up. By having a strong business plan, we were able to meet the right investors.
So you didn't just borrow from friends and family? Begum: No, we looked at this as a real, professional business--not like an adventure. We even waited for a while [before pitching] so that it could form into something really solid. Launching a collection requires a good amount of cash before you start, otherwise it's a bit difficult. You have to have some backing for the first three seasons.
You launched in 2009, right? Begum: Yes, we had a very small trial collection for the Fall 2009 season. We did our sales all on our own. We flew to Paris to show the collection to international buyers, and we rented a tiny room at the hotel Lotte. We had to put the bed in the bathroom to make room for the clothes! (Luckily no one asked to go to the bathroom.)
So you've survived those first three seasons. Axel: We are working on our fourth collection--a third complete collection.
And how would you summarize Beatrixe's focus? Axel: We really felt like there was a gap between designer collections and contemporary collections. Producing almost everything in Turkey makes it easier to create designer pieces at better prices. Quality wise it's almost like Italy. And it's easier for us to communicate because we know many of the suppliers and we speak the language.
I've noticed more and more brands producing stuff in Turkey. Begum: World famous fashion brands are shifting a significant amount of their production from China to Turkey. The quality of the product is incredible. Turkey can do mass market and more boutique brands. [Burberry does some of its leather there.]
I know you've had quite a bit of success in Japan, and that you find them really easy to work with. Begum: For me it's because I also handle the business side--and when you work with Japan, you get your money from the stores on time! It's very challenging, because some boutiques require very specific payment terms, and if you're small you don't really have a choice but to comply. But even if they don't pay, you don't have many things you can do about it. It's difficult. But working with Japan is great--the standards are higher there.
What would you suggest to a designer who is now in the position that you were in three years ago? (I.e. about to launch?) Begum: For young designers, my only suggestion would be not to take on big department stores immediately. Take a few seasons to adjust your patterns, your fits. We were lucky to be discovered by the Japanese stores in our second season. They’re very particular about the production, so now we are, too.
And what's next for Beatrixe? Axel: Well, we do try to change and bring something new every season, but the collection is always very feminine, with both a romantic side and a younger, edgier side.
This coming season we're expanding our cashmere offerings. We did a small capsule collection of cashmere and it sold very well, so we're going to do more. Having production in Turkey is very advantageous because they produce beautiful knits.
Turkey seems to be your lucky coin. Ever get worried the secret is going to get out? Axel: I think we'll be able to keep the advantage--we speak the language and know the people!