A Fashionable Development in Turkey

Back in 2009, female entrepreneurs in Turkey, with the help of the country’s fashion industry have created an innovative new apparel line - one that also boosts the economic prospects for women in Turkey’s Southeast Anatolia region.

The initiative, called Argande, was supported by the GAP Regional Development Administration, UNDP and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) within the scope of the 'Innovations for Women's Empowerment in Southeast Anatolia' project.

The regional fashion brand was named after ancient Mesopotamia's beautiful goddess and ruler 'Argande'.

Highlights

  • During the first phase, 44 Multi-Purpose Community Centers and 10 local initiatives were supported by developing marketing linkages, providing equipment and raw materials.
  • During 2008-2012, 3700 women generated incomes through Project supported activities.
  • With the establishment of regional clothing brand Argande, 40 women were employed and more than 150 women generated fee based incomes.

“So many things have been changed in my life after I started to work for Argande. The most important change is that I can put my children through school now. I started to live in my own apartment. It is almost impossible for a woman in the eastern side of Turkey to earn money and live alone with her children. But I believed I can make all these things happen. I say that I will make it, I will succeed it and I will stand on my own feet. All these are of course possible with some support you get. Support encourages people to gain self-confidence and strength to move on”, says Fatma Ş. who works in the Argande atelier. Fatma is one of many women in the region whose life change after meeting with Argande.

Despite Turkey's economic performance, women's participation in economic life and decision making continues to be an obstacle against the country's progress towards achieving MDGs. While 49.8% of Turkey’s population are women, the average labour participation rate for women remains at 29.5% and further decreases to 9,8% in Southeast Anatolia region.

Meanwhile, one third of working women in Turkey are unpaid family workers. Even when they are in formal employment, working women have lower incomes, lower social statuses, less security and protection with respect to working men.

Supported by Turkey's renowned fashion designers, the women who were involved in production of Argande collections drew inspiration for their designs from traditional Anatolian motifs such as myths, spring festival ceremonies, wedding traditions and nature.

To apply business techniques with regional motifs, the female entrepreneurs received technical trainings, as well as business management support. The designs were then produced in ateliers and workshops, set up in multi-purpose community centers (ÇATOM) in Batman and Mardin.

The first Argande collection was debuted on the runway in February 2010 during Istanbul Fashion Week. Since then, Argande has launched 7 collections.

Recently, in March 2013, Argande made its 4th appearance on fashion week runway during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Istanbul.

One of Turkey's large ready-wear retailers, MUDO, supports Argande since its establishment. Argande collections are being sold in selected MUDO stores in Ankara, Istanbul, Bursa and Antalya. “The project has changed the lives of hundreds of women in the Southeast,” MUDO Board Member Ömer Taviloğlu said. “Not only do the designers have good pieces but you also get a sense of doing something good. We do not get any of the profits and we do not charge any fees.” In 2012 Argande joined forces with online marketing platform Markafoni, for online marketing of its products.

Fashion designer Hatice Gökçe volunteers as Argande's Design Coordinator. She highlights that Argande has also revived two forgotten traditional fabrics, the woven fabric 'kutnu' and 100% wool woven fabric 'shalsepik'. "Shalsepik is a very special fabric,” she said. “There were only four craftsmen producing it in Şırnak, with Argande, this number rose to 20.”

Argande has a long list of supporters. So far, 22 fashion designers contributed to Argande collections and Turkey's renowned fashion models appeared on Argande catalogues and runways. From choreography to PR activities, a strong network of supporters from fashion industry donates their services pro-bono.

“Neither the photographer nor the face of the brand received money from the shoots and all the persons who contributed their efforts did so on voluntary basis,” Project Manager, Gonul Sulargil, said. “We bought the machinery at the ateliers with the funds allocated from the project budget. There is no project like it in the world. We are now trying to make sure that it is sustainable.”

The first phase of Innovations for Women's Empowerment in Southeast Anatolia Project was completed in 2012. During the period, 40 women were employed and 150 women received fee-based incomes by participating in production under Argande initiative.

The second phase of the Project was recently launched with the financial contribution of SIDA and aims at economic and social empowerment of women of Southeast Anatolia by enhancing employment and income generation opportunities.

The second phase also focuses on ensuring sustainability of the initiatives that were supported during the previous period, while building and disseminating knowledge for policy making.

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