Istanbul craft tour: It’s reigning women

ISTANBUL - On the Behind the Bazaar tour next month meet women designers who whip antique pieces into forward-fashion shape. As the few female merchants among the some 4,000 Grand Bazaar shops can attest, males have ruled the sales roost. But women are shaping their own paths in the art market, traditions intact

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Like a window into the past with a backlight illuminating women’s path into creative markets, from bazaars to the bubble-bursting big leagues, a special tour visits local female artisans and learns traditional arts in an Istanbul workshop in use since 1559.

On the heels of the two-day international women’s summit in Istanbul early next month is Behind the Bazaar, a weekend tour June 6-7 invites locals to come along, with or without summit participation. Meeting artisans and designers in their own shops and studios, the group will engage today’s successful women-run business owners in Istanbul’s artistic community.

Guided by a local resident and entrepreneur, day one of the tour highlights the traditional Turkish arts, with a hands-on workshop and tour inside the Grand Bazaar. Day two showcases women designing modern collections and products influenced by traditional styles.

Visit the Caferağa Medrese, built 450 years ago by Sinan the Architect beside the famed Hagia Sofia. Here, women artisans teach and practice traditional Turkish arts. Meet the artisans and teachers of the traditional arts. A 1.5 hour workshop is available to visitors who wish to try their hand and take home the art they make.

Supporting independent artisans

Tara Lutman Ağaçayak, has made a business of supporting the development of creative endeavors, working especially with Turkish women. Her company Intarsia Concept and her partner Figen Çakır have been busy putting together the Behind the Bazaar event.

Intarsia Concept is a creative consulting company Ağaçayak started with Çakır to support independent artists, designers and crafters in the development of their creative businesses by sharing resources and ideas and designing strategies tailored to help them succeed.

This week the pair is wrapping up a six-month long workshop called "How to Develop and Sell Your Handcrafted Product" in the Gölcük Municipality near Istanbul for a small group of entrepreneurial women who have been commissioned by the city as "handicrafters". Before encountering the challenge of pricing last week, they had focused on branding and marketing in each of the women’s areas of ebru (marbling), quilting, calligraphy and Iznik tile ceramics.

They have the talent and the skills, Ağaçayak says. "We just come in with our experience and help them fill in the pieces so that they are equipped to sell their own products. There is no shortage of talent in Turkey," she adds.

Ağaçayak draws on a network of artisans and entrepreneurs she has worked with through her business, Citara's, which she started with her Turkish husband. Working with independent artists to ethically source and develop products, they sell products online, host trunk shows, donate to auctions and develop products based on the skills of local artists and designers.

As the summit approached, Linda Alepin, who will be a speaker, asked Ağaçayak if she could see how female leaders and entrepreneurs were doing work in the spirit of the summit on the ground. Alepin runs a program "Women Leaders for the World" that brings women from all over the world to Santa Clara University in California for training. "As I looked at what we could offer women from Santa Clara University as an informational adjunct to the conference, I thought of Tara and the Grand Bazaar," she said.

Ağaçayak was a participant in Alepin’s Women Leaders for the World program. "I was impressed by her dedication to the "arts" of Turkey (its ancient patterns, techniques, etc.) and the women who are practicing them," Alepin said. One such woman Linda Caldwell, owner of Deli Kızın Yeri (The Crazy Lady’s Place) will invite the tour into her shop in the Grand Bazaar. Her ethnic gift shop gives new life to traditional Turkish crafts. She and a staff of four make nearly all of her products, using raw materials sold by village women throughout Turkey. Caldwell will take the group to her favorite shops in the Grand Bazaar, focusing on the innovative and entrepreneurial.

When Ağaçayak asked Caldwell to introduce the group to other female merchants in the bazaar, Caldwell told her that she only knew one or two. The five-century-old bazaar is a microcosm of the challenges women in Turkey face when trying to capitalize on a craft of their own making. Tradition can easily take over, keeping the controls of sale in the hands of men.

Ağaçayak says she is looking for ways to help the tour endure. "We’re thinking about offering this after the summit as a way to cultivate opportunities and support ongoing creative endeavors."

Local guests are welcome to join the two-day artisan tour. For locals, $235 includes a dinner, two lunches, a cocktail party and all transportation and entry fees.


ş Built in 1559 by the master architect Sinan, the Caferağa Medrese houses artisans Serra Guney, Ebru Sezen and Zeynep Türkmen. Their workshops invite participants to try their own hand at the timeless arts of paper marbling, calligraphy, mosaics, pottery, jewelry making, mother-of-pearl inlay and porcelain painting. Caferağa Medresesi also organizes workshops on handicrafts and music throughout the year. Caferağa Medresesi (beside Hagia Sofia) Caferiye Sok. Soğukkuyu Çıkmazı No:1 Sultanahmet (0212) 513 3601-02

ş Özlem Tuna, owner of the Design Zone, will host guests in her gallery just outside the Grand Bazaar. Inspired by traditional Turkish motifs, Ozlem has been designing jewelry since 1996. She creates unique pieces that appeal to both tourists and Turks because of their classic designs. The Design Zone also shows the work of several other designers, clearly influenced by Turkish design.

ş In the heart of Istanbul’s answer to Soho, Öykü Thurston is the designer behind Art.i.choke, an independent label of clothing and accessories made entirely using the ancient method of felt-making. Merging this technique with modern and sophisticated designs, Thurston and her sister have been using hand-woven natural fibers with merino wools, silks, bamboo, and soy in her Çukurcuma shop since 2006.

ş Figen Subaşı-Westerhof, one of four women partners and owners of Lalay, will meet the group in her showroom in Levent. Subaşı-Westerhof and her partners have based their business model on the idea of using environmentally friendly textiles with the most natural, high-quality materials. Lalay has established the traditional Turkish towel, peshtamal, as a fixture in the modern home. Their home textiles and products indulge buyers and support Turkish artisans.


Learn more about the tour and the first ever International Women’s Entrepreneurship and Leadership Summit in Istanbul at

ş Burçak Esma Kurt is a designer of modern clothing inspired by and using traditional motifs and antique materials. With an expert eye, Burcak finds a place for ancient treasures within a modern palette.

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