MEET HAREM W/ DEE AND BEGUM
Harem London is an East London based clothing label founded by sisters Dee and Begum Ozturk. Heavily influenced by their Turkish heritage the label expresses experience of diverse identity with pieces that blend influences, fabrics and techniques from both countries and cultures. As we launch Harem London on PARO, we chatted to Dee and Begum about family ties, and how their heritage and sustainable design ethos influence their work.
"Controlling production will make a massive effect on the fashion industry. People should get the mentality of not 'the more the better' but 'less is more'."
How would you describe Harem London in two words?
Dee: Contemporary, crossculture.
Begum: Comfortable luxury
When did you start Harem London, and what inspired you to?
Dee: Our inspiration was having fun and showing our cultural heritage to modern London. We started in 2015, originally trading 100% organic cotton Turkish hammam towels. Once we realised the fabric quality was appreciated, we decided to make a summer beach line using this material. Then after seeing the success of the summer lounge wear, we decided to take another step forward and work on different seasons.
Begum: We have created our first winter collection using the 100% organic cotton hand woven hammam towel fabric and mix it with organic jerseys. Then we rebranded for fashion in 2018 because we wanted to officially do what we desired to do with our designs.
Tell us about the team behind the brand.
Dee: Believe it or not, we were the two of us in the beginning. We were getting help in outsourcing the making in the first year, but then we realised this is not as sustainable as we wanted it to be so we decided to hire a pattern cutter, and pattern developer/ maker. We started cutting/ sampling and making in our East London studio. During the busy periods like LFW and stock making, we started getting Fashion students as paid interns, usually from London College of Fashion, so that they learn and help us.
We also work with an art director - my colleague from CSM, who also has a theatre background, so we create the stories of our campaign and presentations together. We have been working with a great photography team since the 1st collection, and we became like a family. We all know how each of us work. That really helps us develop creatively.
Before you were co-founders, you were sisters. How do you work together and would you recommend working with family, to anyone reading?
Dee: It's not easy if you are super close like us. Begum has a business mind and I am an artist, and it can be difficult to adapt to each other's ways of thinking, but we learned that you need to put emotions aside and trust each other's instincts.
Begum: It’s important to keep it professional and leave work at work. I think the key for us has been to create very clear tasks for each other and don’t interfere too much with each other’s work. For example, during her design period I leave her be, and then we talk about it once she feels the designs are complete.
What’s playing on the office / studio stereo?
Dee: I usually play jazz if we do admin work, but if we do creative things like brainstorming for a collab or working on our garments cutting/ sewing, we usually play Turkish funk mixes to put us in the mood.
Begum: I weirdly prefer the office quiet but I got used to it. Need to encourage the creatives after all.
We think ‘good design’ is when the impact you make on people and the planet is considered a key factor in your design stage. How do you approach this at Harem London?
Dee: Absolutely! We have taken care of our planet as a sustainable brand since our 1st day at the studio. And when a customer discovers our brand story, our ethical values and they appreciate us, hearing about the positive vibes we have managed to give to them, we are the happiest people.
Begum: Since we make each garment in our studio, we have full control over the production process. We source our fabrics from family run suppliers in Turkey, with whom we’ve been working for many years. We minimise the materials we buy, and choose organic materials as much as possible. We make sure we minimise material waste and recycle fabrics and paper used in the studio. We take this very seriously.
You work with Turkish artisans to produce handmade fabrics for some of your collection. Can you tell us about these traditional methods and why you decided to include them in your collection?
Dee: Hand crafts is a very important part of our culture and our history. We make sure we include a part of this ethnicity in everything we do. In AW 21 we have used a very special silk fabric known as “Kutnu”, which I went and handpicked the material myself from Gaziantep - an Anatolian city famous for hand grafts and amazing food. The colours of the weave is exclusive to Harem London. The fabric is hand woven by the oldest family in business using traditional techniques.
A Harem London fabric supplier, and East London studio.
There is no such thing as perfect when it comes to sustainable design and having an open dialogue about the design choices you make is so important. So we always ask designers - what would you like to do better, or are you working on improving?
Begum: We would really like to get rid of paper based brochures, posters etc for marketing purposes. We already try to limit it as much as we can, and we are working on eliminating it altogether.
Where is Harem London going in the future?
Begum: Making our own community is our main aim. Finding our people who appreciate and value sustainability, environment, good design and good quality is essential for us. Hope to expand our community in the future.
Dee: We really want to spread the word about our story and our cross culture identity to a wider audience.
As we all know, the fashion industry is responsible for huge environmental and social issues. How would you like to see the industry change and progress?
Dee: Controlling production will make a massive effect on the fashion industry. People should get the mentality of not “the more the better” but “less is more”. High quality small productions would help the environment.
What advice would you give to people who want to be more responsible when they’re shopping?
Begum: Buying “cheap” and “mass produced” clothes are neither beneficial for yourself - because they’ll break in less than a year - neither for the environment. People should always aim to find good quality items that are crafted well and sustainably made.
Dee: Shop small, original, ethical, sustainable brands that do their job with passion. That is always the best quality of products you will get.
Thanks Dee & Begum!
Shop the Harem collection here.