Argande: Socially Conscious Fashion
ISTANBUL, TURKEY – Argande must be the only fashion label in the world to receive logistical support from the United Nations Development Program. This innovative Turkish brand is at once a stylish womenswear label and a social responsibility project with a mission to contribute to the economic and social empowerment of women. Established in 2009, Argande provides employment for more than 100 women in Southeast Turkey, where poverty is high and the rate of women’s participation in the workforce is low.
While socially conscious textile projects usually bring to mind traditional handicrafts or quaint, “authentic” clothing, Argande is anything but. Aimed at an audience of modern, city-dwelling, professional women, seasonal collections offer chic fabrics, trend-focused styles and a decidedly contemporary aesthetic. Three collections have been shown at Istanbul Fashion Week, and publicity campaigns have featured top Turkish models such as Ahu Yagtu (as seen in photo 1).
For each collection, Argande works with leading Turkish fashion designers, who each contribute several designs. In the seven seasons thus far, around 20 designers – including Hakan Yildirim (aka Haakan), Mehtap Elaidi, Gamze Saracoglu (whose design is seen in photo 2), Ozgur Masur and Simay Bulbul (whose design is seen in photo 3) – have lent their efforts, some multiple seasons running. From designers to models, everyone is involved on a purely volunteer basis.
Hatice Gokce, a well-regarded designer in Turkey of avant-garde men’s and women’s clothing, serves as Argande’s brand coordinator, overseeing collections to ensure a coherent look despite the participation of so many different designers.
“We have worked with all of the most significant designers [in Turkey]. Naturally, at the beginning our goal was to publicize Argande,” says Gokce. “Now, intentionally, we are down to three designers and eventually, we’ll go down to just one or two. We want to have more commercially viable collections in which the designer’s touch can really be felt.”
Argande may be designed in the cosmopolitan metropolis of Istanbul, at the other end of the country from where the clothes are produced, but it aims to promote the rich cultural heritage of the Southeast. The brand takes its name from a goddess revered by the Commagenes, a kingdom that ruled two millennia ago along the banks of the Euphrates. Photo shoots for Argande take place in the region and showcase its most iconic locations, from the beehive houses of Harran (as seen in photo 4) and the sacred carp pools in Urfa to the flooded ancient town of Halfeti (as seen in photo 5).
Designers draw inspiration from customs like springtime festivals and wedding traditions, and some pieces subtly incorporate typical motifs or embroidery techniques. Collections also make use of two types of local fabric, kutnu and sal sapik, that are hand-woven and were in danger of dying out.
“We wanted there to be a symbol of the region. Kutnu and sal sapik have been used in the area for a very long time, since the Ottoman period. We make sure to put them in our collections every season. Our business has helped those fabric workshops survive,” says Gokce.
Since its launch, Argande has been sold through a partnership with Mudo, a major clothing retailer in Turkey; currently, 15 select stores in seven cities around the country carry the collections. Mudo does not make a profit from the sales, with revenues going instead to the women who produce the clothing. The project’s main funding comes from a Swedish development bank; it is hoped that Argande will eventually become self-sustainable.
Establishing a fashion label is never easy, but with so many lives already reaping the benefits, Argande seems destined to succeed.
All photos courtesy of Argande.