A Need for a "Village Uncommon": An Interview with Turkey's Newest Online Artisanal Shop
Ami and Murat are two friends of mine here in Istanbul who have embarked on an adventure to do something a little different. They've opened an online shop called Village Uncommon, which aims to showcase the beauty of Turkey through its artisanal crafts, and bring them from the village to your living room. I caught up with them in Istanbul to talk about how things are going with the exciting new venture, which focuses on original, handmade products.
1. Firstly, how did this all come about? Have you been thinking about creating "Village Uncommon" for quite some time, or was there an "aha moment?"
Murat: We have been thinking about starting something and that 'thing' being incorporated with handmade things for quite some time but the idea of starting a business like this had an ''aha moment''. Asking ourselves the question 'what can that thing be?' the obvious answer was somehow difficult to find. Towards the end of summer 2016, one late night possibly after a few drinks the obvious answer popped in our heads: if we want to do something with handmade things, us being in Turkey and there being an interest in the western world towards works of art made in this part of the world, Ami being American and me being Turkish, and the long history and culture of artifacts this land offers, I think the picture was quite lucid.
Ami: We knew we wanted to start something for a while. There is so much "amazingness" that is here to be shared. Being an expat in Turkey who is in love with so much that Turkey has to offer the world, I get really excited to share those finds with others. The "aha moment" for me, came when I was visiting with a friend who mentioned that she really wanted to visit Turkey to see us and also to buy a carpet but wasn't able to. We thought about that and wondered if there were others like my friend and if we might be able to be a bridge.
"From the start we have been drawn to the truth that all of these items got their start by being made in a village."
2. Ami, you're American, and Murat, you're Turkish. Do you find that typically you come to a consensus on what belongs in your online shop, or do you tend to see things from different viewpoints based on your cultural background?
Murat: I think we do at times. I believe Ami's approach is what makes the possibility of success in our business. When I look at something I tend to lose connection with the interior environment that the object will be used in. I see something beautiful but I'm not that good at following trends or matching things so if what I'm looking at is beautiful it's good enough for me. I think Ami has a broader perspective. She thinks about the whole picture, people's color preferences, trends, what would look good with their furniture, is it pet friendly and so on.
Ami: Overall, we do come to a consensus on what belongs in our shop. I think we each bring something unique to that decision and it compliments one another. Murat has spent much of his life shadowing his father who was a tour guide doing tours all over Anatolia and has learned much about the tradition of carpet/kilim making regarding styles and techniques from visiting carpet shops. I learned to knit as a child and have been knitting ever since. I am obsessed with textiles made by hand. Often we see the beauty and a story in the pieces that we choose but what narrows our choice of what goes into our shop ultimately comes down to who we think might like the piece that we've chosen. Having a profile of a customer in mind helps us wade through the number of glorious things that we just want because we find them beautiful.
3. A shop or a business is usually created to "fill a void." What void or space do you feel like you're filling by opening up "Village Uncommon?"
Murat: I believe the void is too big for one shop or business to fill. Although it is uplifting to see what might be called as an improvement in behavior through being interested in things that are being made more responsibly and in a way that can be sustained. It is a fact that we produce more than we need and to compensate that we have to consume more than we need. I believe by using things that are / were made responsibly we can start a positive change and this can improve our social, economical and natural environment. We are choosing products that we know that are / were produced in this manner.
4. On your website, you talk about the importance of finding products for your shop that battle against this trend of mass production and mass consumerism. How do you feel you can do that? Is the name "Village Uncommon" alluding to that?
Ami: From the start we have been drawn to the truth that all of these items got their start by being made in a village. We want to give importance to that. "Uncommon" comes from not one single item being like another. With only selecting handmade items, each is unique and might have a similar motif or color but what is made by hand can never be exactly replicated. We want to honor tradition and makers that we have crossed paths with and those carrying the traditions. Our little shop is also like a small village that is not like any other, offering handmade, home goods that we have chosen according to our own tastes. I think we, as consumers can make an impact on investing in items that are made to last and are already here.
Murat: What we offer were things that were central to life in the ''village''. The idea of ''city'' emerged in the last few centuries and today the word itself points to a way of life, a way of being in the cultural sense rather than a place a lot of people live in. All this is good, more people have the chance to prosper, more people have safer and more comfortable lives where they can take advantage of using their time not just to survive but to contemplate and enjoy. Nevertheless this doesn't come without a cost. The shift that we had has put a distance between us and our roots. We live in apartments, houses, travel in cars, airplanes but most people very seldom touch grass or earth. I have lived in big cities in Turkey nearly all my life so I know this for a fact from my life, except summer retreats in a beautiful Aegean town. We like to offer what we enjoy using, things that decrease that distance, that bring us closer to our roots.
5. What would you want a potential customer to know about "Village Uncommon?"
Murat: They are very close to finding something that they will love and use for the rest of their lives.
Ami: That we want to highlight the importance of investing in something that is both artistic and handmade. Handmade products are the ones that last and you know that you are supporting a tradition.
"We live in apartments, houses, travel in cars, airplanes but most people very seldom touch grass or earth."
6. Your scope for finding your products seems to be the whole breadth of Turkey, a massive country. So, how have you chosen which artisans to work with and where to find the products?
Ami: It's been such a journey. A journey that has been what I know as life for myself in Turkey. There are by and large way more traditional "mom and pop" shops in Turkey and information is passed on by word of mouth. It's not easy to find these products. It's a hunt. We got clues and pieces to our puzzle as we went from village to village, asking locals where to go next. Sometimes, after a lot of driving we hit some dead ends and had to find our way. It was a bit like a scavenger hunt. For instance, we went to a village that was renowned for its "tülü" rugs. Tülü in Turkish means furry. It has long, hand-spun fibers that are pulled through the warp (base of the carpet) with a needle and the fibers are left long, giving it a "furry" feel to this thicker style of carpet. We arrived in that small village and it was a ghost town. I don't think anyone from outside of the village had been there in a long time from the stares that we got from people trying to figure out where we came from and what we would be doing there. Come to find out, we were 30 years late. There was no one left weaving in this village. We've met a lot of people and have drunk a lot of tea on this journey. It's really a gut reaction when we meet someone that we want to work with.
Murat: It has been an adventure. When we decided on what we wanted to do we had no idea where to start. I'm from the west part of Turkey from a city on the Aegean Coast. A lot of this culture comes from inland, from Central Anatolia where people still make rugs, kilims and pottery, even though the production is substantially less these days. So we flew to Central Turkey, rented a car and went to cities, towns that we knew produced these works of art. It was challenging because most of these things are made in remote locations and googling things isn't much of a help. So we ended up going to these locations, knocking on people's doors, drinking an excessive amount of tea and meeting some very interesting people making or collecting these items. As for choosing the items if it's love at first sight we can not help but get it.
7. How have things been going so far, and where do you see things heading from here?
Murat: Things have been going fine in the sense of starting a business, finding the items we want to sell, opening a web store. It is challenging to be recognized in the vast ocean of internet but we only pick things that we love and I believe there are other people out there that will love them as well. I think it is only a matter of time for us to reach them.
Ami: So far, things are going well from the standpoint that we know who we are and which are the products that we want to share with people. We just opened our online store last week and have good feelings about it. It's still very new and we hope to gain some traction in the vastness that is the world wide web. We hope to see the items that we have carefully chosen styled in a home by people who are as excited about these products as we are.
If you saw anything you liked on this post, please check out Village Uncommon for much more where that came from! Use the code "VUOPENING2017" to get 10% all orders until February 10th! You can also follow them on Facebook on their Village Uncommon FB Page. What they're doing, yeah, it's awesome, so go ahead and be a part of their growth! I can tell you personally, they deserve it.