Designer clothing helps women in southeast Turkey

Designer fashion and social responsibility finds a place in southeastern Turkey, where women entrepreneurs are being empowered.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 15/02/13

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Fashion designers, models, and women in southeastern Turkey have come together to re-brand the region in a unique project to empower women.

  • Model Sema Simsek displays the Argande brand in Halfeti, Sanliurfa. [Gencer Bavbek]

    Model Sema Simsek displays the Argande brand in Halfeti, Sanliurfa. [Gencer Bavbek]

The project -- Innovations for Women's Empowerment in Southeast Anatolia -- started in March 2008 in co-operation between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Turkey's GAP Regional Development Administration, and is financed by the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency.

To date, it has integrated more than 100 women into the labour force, teaching them sales and marketing skills, as well as design, cutting and sewing. By re-branding Southeastern Anatolia and including traditional designs into the fashion line, the project has captured the attention of fashion-conscious professional women in the big cities.

The clothes and accessories are marketed under the Argande brand in 17 Mudo stores, a major clothing retailer. In the spirit of social responsibility, no fee is charged to the women and the proceeds of sales are given to the women entrepreneurs. From designers to models, everyone works on a volunteer basis.

"We wanted to contribute [to women's employment] by using innovative production and marketing strategies to give the region a new image," Hatice Gokce, a clothing designer at Argande, told SES Türkiye.

Gokce said the project empowers women's socio-economic positions and fosters entrepreneurial skills.

The project not only benefits local women, but also preserves local cultural heritage and brings it to a larger market. Two types of local cloths, Kutnu and Sal Sapik, produced in Sirnak and Gaziantep, are used in the Argande clothing line.

"As a result," Gokce said, "hand-woven textiles that have been used since the Ottoman period but were in danger of dying out have been given a new breath and prevented from being forgotten about."

UNDP Project Manager Gonul Sulargil said the income earned by women has led to an improvement in their family's status as well as their self-confidence in society.

"For example, there are women who became the only breadwinner in their family of eight to 10 members with the income they generate with the support of the project. This allowed them to have a stronger voice in their families and society. Similarly, there are other women who had a chance to send their children to schools with the income they generate through Argande sales," Sulargil told SES Türkiye.

Fatma, a woman in southeast Anatolia working with Argande, said on the UNDP-Turkey website that the project has had a life-changing impact.

"Before nobody loved me or respected me, because I was a woman and condemned to sit at home. But now everybody loves and respects me, because I make as much money as a man. Before I started working my family always oppressed me. My family would discriminate between men and women, whatever I did they accused me of shameful acts, saying that everything was a sin I was reprimanded. But now I make money and nobody puts shame on me. I can go wherever I want whenever I want. I feel like I've finally started to become free."


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