Our alumnus Zeynep Gürsoy tells her entrepreneurial story to gazeteSU: “I had a dream of creating a brand that made women feel strong, and encouraged them to live the life they wanted. I decided to create a women’s accessories brand for which I could put my design skills into play. I wanted to design handbags, which are always at women’s side like their best friends."
A graduate of Sabancı University Manufacturing Systems program, class of 2008, Zeynep Gürsoy had the inspiration to create her own brand after she started to listen to her inner voice. After working for her family company for 5 years, she took the first important step to creating her own brand by doing a master’s degree at the Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in London. She then returned to Turkey, and introduced the ‘Tara Folks’ brand, which features accessories and handbags which she designs to make women feel strong.
Gürsoy tells her entrepreneurial story to gazeteSU saying, “I had a dream of creating a brand that made women feel strong, and encouraged them to live the life they wanted. I decided to create a women’s accessories brand for which I could put my design skills into play. I wanted to design handbags, which are always at women’s side like their best friends."
PS: With a wide collection ranging from leather bumbags to shoulder and backpacks, Tara Folks offers 15% discount to all Sabancı University family members. Sabancı University members can enjoy the discount by using the “SABANCILI15” code on the company’s website.
First of all, can you introduce yourself? Can you briefly mention your educational background and career?
Hello. I am Zeynep Gürsoy. After studying at the German High School of Istanbul, I graduated from Sabancı Üniversitesi Manufacturing Systems program in 2008. I postponed starting a career and moved to Florence for a couple of months to develop my Italian, which I had started to learn at Sabancı University. In January 2009, I started to work for Mamsan Gıda, our family company, which manufactures dairy products. I had the opportunity to gain experience for five years in different departments of the company from sales and marketing to production, supply chain and procurement. Back then, we manufactured dairy products as a subcontractor for other brands. With the idea of creating our own brand, we established a sub-brand, ‘Sütçüm’ in Edirne, where our facilities were located. This process, in which I was able to be involved in everything from design to sales channels development, enabled me to see the big picture when I established and developed my own brand.
As I do not have any experience of working in the corporate world, I cannot judge how things would have been today had I worked for other companies, but working with my father, I learned a lot from him about interpersonal relations and entrepreneurship, which I am currently using, and I feel very lucky for that reason.
I always had a dream of doing a master’s degree abroad. At the beginning, I wanted to move on with an MBA, as I was probably driven by the herd psychology. And although I received acceptance letters for MBA programs from some very good schools in Europe, I was not excited about an MBA. What I sought was to have specialization in a field in which I could use my creativity. “MS Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries” at the Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in London was exactly my cup of tea. When I was accepted to the program, I relocated to London. Thanks to this program, on top of my engineering background, I had friends from many different countries coming from various creative sectors such as graphic design, fashion design etc. Getting to know different cultures widened my perspective to a great extent. I then decided to create my own brand instead of going back to my family business.
When and how did you decide to establish Tara Folks? Can you talk about the startup stages of your business?
I wanted to do something for women. I had a dream of creating a brand that somehow made women feel strong, and encouraged them to live the life they wanted. I decided to create a women’s accessories brand for which I could put my design skills into play. I wanted to design handbags, which are always at women’s side like their best friends. For this, I also completed an online handbag design course. My course teacher is still my mentor and has become a very close friend of mine over time.
I kind of dived into a sector, which I had not known at all, with my very strong motivation to realize my dream. I did not know any manufacturer, or any procurement managers of the companies that would be interested in buying my products, or any editors of the magazines where I could advertise my brand and products, or any stylists. After I had taken my designs beyond the sketching process, and turned them into cardboard mockups, I started to look for a manufacturer. After my product samples were ready, I started to take part in high-quality shopping events such as Çaba, TOGbazar, Zubizu, Canan&İris with my limited amount of stock. I was nearly alone in all this process. I was helped by a relative of mine, whom I called my sister. We used to set up our display table like modern stallholders, carry our handbags, and collect them back in the evening. As I attended such events, I could network with more and more people from the sector. Every network that I built opened a new door for me. First of all, I started to work with local boutique stores like RoomandRumours. Then, I started to sell my bags in large department stores in Istanbul like Galeries Lafayette and Harvey Nichols. And, finally, I sold my products online on websites such as WolfandBadger, which predominantly work for the US and the UK markets. Every step that I took turned out to be very valuable, as they moved me to the next stage. As I met and talked to different people from the fashion sector, I acquired various ideas about the steps to take to create my own brand. And I learned that there is no one and only truth, but there are many truths.
What is your target for Tara Folks?
In the short run, I aim to increase brand awareness for Tara Folks and grow my in-house domestic and international online sales volume. In addition, I want to expand my team and to be able to allocate some more time to the design aspect of my business. Moreover, I am planning to collaborate with related partners to produce short videos in order to reflect the essence of the brand in an entertaining way.
In the longer run, I would like to make Tara Folks a well-known and sought-after brand abroad for its designs and high-quality. Thus, I aim to be an example demonstrating the quality of Turkish leather and craft, and contribute to the economy of our country through my exports.
How did becoming a Sabancı University graduate contribute to you in terms of being involved in an entrepreneurial idea and acquiring entrepreneurial vision? How do you interpret being a Sabancı University member in that respect?
I was so lucky to take a course on entrepreneurship from the late Ziya Boyacıgiller when I studied at Sabancı University. He was a person who greatly inspired me as a successful and modest professor with an engineering background. In addition, I was able to acquire know-how in different fields thanks to the interdisciplinary education and CIP programs offered by Sabancı. So, when I connected the dots derived from many different disciplines and visions, my creativity and originality made themselves manifest. I think being a Sabancı member means being curious about and also interested in fields other than your own, and being an individual who seeks ways to answer a question although you may not find the answer, and who asks new questions continuously for self-development.