After a few minutes of speaking to Gamze Ates, founder of cult resort wear label My Beachy Side, it’s hard not to feel deeply inspired (and deeply lazy). Her passion for supporting Turkish craftsmanship and design, alongside women and their communities, radiates off her – and her business model – like the hot Turkish sun itself. Does the woman ever sleep? Not really.
With a background in business, shipping and fashion editorial (Ates was editor of Vogue Türkiye), her journey in non-profit organisations began well before her resort wear label was ever established. But, after years of working with charities, one revelation changed her life forever: “You can’t help people by just giving money,” she tells me. “You need to change the system.”
Noticing difficulties within rural Turkish communities ranging from domestic violence to the refugee crisis, Ates decided to launch her own business that would break this cycle of poverty and abuse, and so My Beachy Side was born. A fashion company with roots in social consciousness that would give artisans and women a job and financial security. “It was difficult to find these groups of women at first,” says Ates. “But now our women come to the workshops and collect their yarn, they learn how to create new pieces on the models and then go home to make them. This is now our 7th year as a company and we have 500 women who work for us regularly. My aim is to bring this number up to 1,000 women in our employment.” See what I mean about feeling lazy?
“yOU cAn’T HeLP pEOPLe By jUsT gIVInG mONEy. YOu nEED tO cHAnGE THe sYSTEm.”
“Everyone in fashion talks about projections but, as a company, our goal is to say we have to increase sales to give jobs to our women,” says Ates when asked about the pressure to grow whilst remaining socially active. But that does not mean that style comes second – quite the opposite. “No one will buy our clothes if they aren’t great. We don’t compromise on style and we don’t compromise quality. Our brand is fashionable, resort wear is all about escapism.”
This leads us nicely to design. My Beachy Side is all about the fun and unexpected side of resort wear, just look at last year’s collaboration with Netflix Hit Emily in Paris where sailor striped playsuits and sailor boat motifs reigned supreme. It was as silly and whimsical as it was highly fashionable (just like the show itself, and I loved it!).
Each garment made has all of Ates’ deep thought behind it, from the ‘poissons’ swimming within golden nets that make her beach skirts to the dangling life buoy rings that dangle from her crop tops. “Our clothing is filled with symbolism, and trinkets,” reveals Ates. “in Turkey, folklore and motifs have meaning. Usually, people put them on headcovers (evil eyes for example) but I like to take these motifs and blow them up.” Each concept is created by Ates herself, who says she always looks at the world around her for inspiration. Ates adores the coast, so you will discover plenty of references throughout her collections, coral-like lace patterns, pastel rock hues and flowing silhouettes.
“cULTiVaTINg LOcaL eCOnOmY iS sUSTaInABILiTy.”
One of the most noticeable aspects of My Beachy Side is the amount that is hand-made and crocheted (their most popular items at KOIBIRD have been the crochet cropped sailor halterneck top and red and blue bikini set.) “All the crochet is made by our women,” says Ates. “It's all done by yarn and hook, there’s no machinery and it also means the carbon footprint is very low as we never have any material waste.” Even the buttons My Beachy Side use are hand-made by its artisans, of which Ates states flatly, “why buy buttons when you can make them?”
Sustainability, the big and overbearing buzzword of fashion, is not one Ates is fond of – not because of its sentiment, but due to the huge amount of greenwashing that accompanies it. “Cultivating local economy is sustainability” is her response when I ask her what the solution to this issue is. “We shop all of our materials locally, (Turkey is great for manufacturing) we make locally, and so our carbon footprint is low. But think about it, ⅔ of the Turkish population still needs work, if we give a job with sustainable techniques, that is what will save the world.”
Ates continues: “In our seven years, sustainability has come in many flavours, people think it is about being eco-friendly but sustainability actually has seven pillars, and many have to touch in order to be sustainable. No company right now is fully sustainable. It might happen in the near future, but these pillars need to be connected. The more we educate our clients the better world we will have. We want to create something beautiful, but this can be a double-edged sword. Let's create relevant beautiful pieces first, but then let's make people feel good because garments have been ethically-made with workers fairly paid.”
“nO COmPAnY RIgHT nOW iS fULLy sUSTaiNABLe.”
The My Beachy Side workshops scatted throughout Turkey also provide a powerful sanctuary for the women it employs. Many of its offices are in rural areas and are often more luxurious than their employee's own homes. “It’s like an escape for them,” says Ates. “They can bring their children; we have created an environment where they can feel safe and socialise, some are domestic violence victims, and now, their husbands have stopped beating them as they bring money – now they have economic freedom.”
Looking to the future, Ates has high ambitions, predictably. “There is a spiritual part to the model we have created and the women we look after, I would like this to be duplicated in other countries. That’s my legacy, I’m 55 and I want that to happen by the time I’m 70.”
“We are a family and we love the mission,” Ates continues. And with that, it’s time for her to return to work.