Organic cotton towels from the Sufi (left) and Gazel lines. Images via Gazel.
The hamam, or Turkish bath, is famous worldwide, offering the opportunity to luxuriate in a hot, sauna-like environment, interspersed by cooling splashes of water and topped off by a vigorous massage -- and/or being scrubbed to within an inch of your life, depending on the bath. These days, Turkey is also well known for its organic cotton, though you couldn't really tell from the paucity of organic clothing available domestically, as most of the material goes to big manufacturers in Europe. So it seemed perfectly natural (so to speak) to the Turkish brother-and-sister team behind Gazel to combine two of their country's distinctive offerings.
Sibling founders Murat and Pinar Badur hit upon the idea for a firm selling luxury organic Turkish-made towels and bathrobes after they both made their way to California; she to study marketing and work in the textile industry, he working as a software developer.
"We wanted to do a business selling Turkish products in the United States," Murat explained over a coffee one recent morning in Istanbul. "Turkey has high-quality organic textiles that meet European standards, and there is lots of demand in California."
Organic Turkish Textiles
The Badurs launched the company in January 2009, seeing it both as a way to maintain their own ties to Turkey and Turkish culture and a chance to help push the country's industry in a more eco-friendly direction. Like other entrepreneurs starting out in Turkey, they initially had a hard time identifying a supplier who was willing to work with smaller orders, but eventually found a boutique firm that was interested in their idea.
"The economic crisis actually helped us because [the manufacturer] wasn't finding markets in the U.S. They want to export more to America," Murat said. "We took a risk [starting up during the crisis], but it worked out."
Organic cotton bathrobes for men (right) and women. Images via Gazel.
Through its San Francisco headquarters, Gazel now offers a variety of 100-percent organic-cotton products, all sourced in the Aegean region of Turkey and manufactured in the southwestern city of Denizli. Each of their lines of towels and bathrobes come in various earthy tones, such as mocha, stone, and rust -- colors created with organic, root-based dyes -- and are decorated with abstract designs inspired by Turkish, Ottoman, and Anatolian culture. The Oya collection evokes the lace flowers sewn since the 8th century, while the Ebru collection was inspired by the Anatolian art form of the same name, also known as "water marbling." The Sufi collection is based on geometric patterns in art that emerged along with Sufi religious beliefs.
Consumer Demand For Eco-Friendly Products On The Rise
Though the organic industry is still small in Turkey, Murat is optimistic about its prospects. "People first bought organics to be trendy, but they had no idea what they were buying. Now they ask about certification," he said. (Gazel meets the Global Organic Textiles Standard.) "They know more about government regulations and farming. Consumer demand is shifting the industry. Prices have dropped 50 to 80 percent on organic food."
Despite the drop in prices, the sector provides opportunities for companies as well as consumers, he added, explaining that textile firms in Turkey can't out-compete their Chinese or Egyptian counterparts on price, but they can offer better compliance with international (especially European Union) standards. "We're building a brand using pure Turkish resources," he said. "You have to differentiate yourself based on quality."
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