Istanbul’s designer fashion, feminism and fairness. This is what Sibel and Lara, the founders of FeminIst Fair Fashion, talk about at the exclusive Fashion Circle in the boutique TERESa. We have summed up the interview between Anna Strießnig, the managing director of the boutique TERESa, and our founders here.
Anna Strießnig: Dear Sibel, dear Lara, how nice that you are here! You are mother and daughter… who is who? (Laughter). No, seriously, how did you come to found FeminIst?
Sibel: I was born in Istanbul and always wanted to work with this creative, colorful city. When it comes to designer fashion, you always hear about Milan and Paris, but Istanbul is a massive fashion city. Unfortunately, fast fashion has taken over in Istanbul – like everywhere else. The small boutiques, the creative designers with their special fashion, have disappeared more and more. Nowadays, you can find the same shops and the same clothes in every city in the world. I regret this very much, and so I had the idea of building a bridge between Istanbul and Europe in the fashion sector. On the one hand, to offer women in Europe individual, special fashion, and on the other hand, to reach out to the designers in Turkey. When I told my daughter Lara about it, she said: “That’s a great idea, if you make it sustainable now, I’m in!
Anna Strießnig: Actually, you both come from different backgrounds: Lara from journalism, you Sibel from cosmetics. How come you decided to do fashion?
Sibel: Fashion is more than just clothes, it is a reflection of our world history. When you look at fashion, you see the issues of society at that time. In the 1940s, at the time of the Second World War, the styles were strict and straightforward, inspired by the military and war. In the flower power era, there were wide sleeves and knitted patterns. Fashion also shows us how gender roles were defined and lived at the time. When women started to fight for their rights in 1960, the first suit was designed for women. We are also writing history now. When our grandchildren look back someday, they will see: in 2022, the world was in the middle of the climate crisis, and those were the first women to change their clothing in a sustainable way.
Anna Strießnig: How did the name FeminIst Fair Fashion come about?
Lara Heiss: Fashion has more to do with feminism than you’d think. First of all, feminism means that all people have the same rights – in other words, equality. In the fashion industry, equality is far from being achieved if you look at how the clothes of fast fashion brands are produced. Over 80% of the people who sew our clothes are women. These sewers in Bangladesh, Vietnam or Cambodia often have no employment contract, work for the lowest wages including countless hours of overtime and are also exposed to physical and verbal violence. Not to mention child labour. The women are paid so little that even though they work 14 hours a day, they are dependent on their father or husband because their salary is not enough to survive. We want to use our name to draw attention to these terrible working conditions and show that it is possible to work in a completely different way. We protect our workers and also children by completely banning child labour and paying their parents fairly. It is important to us that our sewers can live in dignity and independently, because only then can we wear the clothes with dignity.
Anna Strießnig: So fairness is an important component, what else makes you a sustainable fashion label?
Lara Heiss: Our fabrics. Our organic cotton is completely pesticide-free, unlike conventional cotton, and we are 100% plastic-free. You have to think of it this way with plastic fibres like polyester: We wash these fabrics, and small microfibres of plastic go through our washing machine and waste water into the sea. This microplastic is eaten by fish and marine life because they can’t distinguish it from plankton. In the worst case, they eat so much that it clogs their stomach and they die. In the best case, these animals are caught and eaten by us, so that the plastic ends up back in our life cycle. Both are not very nice thoughts. That’s why we decided to work completely without plastic: so no polyester, no recycled polyester, no nylon, no elastane.
Anna Strießnig: What about the men? Do you also have something for the weaker sex?
Lara Heiss: We do! For 2 reasons: 1. we think that clothing has no gender: If you like a piece of clothing, wear it. No matter what gender, no matter what colour, no matter what cut. The world is changing in that way too, we just had a man in a dress on the cover of Vogue for the first time. And 2. with our name, it is very important to address men as well, because we think that men should be feminists too.
Anna Strießnig: Thank you very much Sibel and Lara. You really put a lot of thought into it and that should be honoured. But there’s one thing I’m still wondering: How does it actually work when mother and daughter work together?
Sibel Yildiz: Difficult. (Laughter) Lara is very stubborn and she always knows everything better, but she was always like that as a child. Especially when she is very stubborn about sustainability, the designers look me in the eye and expect me to put my foot down, but I don’t stand a chance.
Joking aside, we are a very strong and great team with a great basis of trust. We cry together, we get angry together and we rejoice together. The image of mother and daughter working together is very new. I don’t have any role models myself. Fathers who hand over the business to their sons, even fathers-in-law who work together with their sons-in-law, we know this image. This is new, for me and for all of us, I think. But it just shows us that we are in a new age. Until now there were fathers and sons, now there are mothers and daughters.
Anna Strießnig: Thank you both very much!