Chikirina is celebrating its second birthday and we took this opportunity to speak with the brand’s co-creator Janelle Berberoğlu about Chikirina’s journey and what awaits it in the future.
What inspired the launch of Chikirina two years ago?
Chikirina was the brainchild of two like-minded girls from different backgrounds. My cousin Fulya, a talented Turkish fashion/industrial designer based in Istanbul, and I, a young, entrepreneurial fitness enthusiast with a fashion marketing background from the States. A combination of Fulya’s design capabilities and my vision for what was missing in the market here gave us the inspiration and motivation to bring this project to life. We wanted to empower Turkish women, help them boost their confidence, provide comfort in their daily lives through our collection, and inspire them to live healthy, active, and happy lives.
How did the name "Chikirina" come to be?
The name “Chikirina” derives from Laz, a dying language from the Black Sea region of Turkey and also the first language of my grandmother. It means “tiny little girl” and is something she used to call us when we were young. We actually had agreed on the name before we had a viable business; we knew Chikirina was quite meaningful to us and we wanted to create something with it as a way to honor the family and connect to our roots.
How did Chikirina grow in these past two years?
These past two years have been an incredible learning experience for both of us. To think that Chikirina didn’t exist in the market two years ago really puts into perspective the growth that we’ve had so far. Our first active collection was kind of our first step, trying to put out an assortment of styles that anyone could feel good in, in fun colors, and in killer fabrics that you can’t find easily in Turkey. We followed that up with our swim collection, which was an extension of our initial vision and we really put a lot of thought and time into creating styles that were unique to the market. Comfortable, sporty, yet still sexy was our intention. With that collection, we also started playing with multi-functional concepts, by creating a reversible swim set, swim tops that double as yoga tops or bras, and a one-piece that can be worn as a body suit. This is actually the direction we plan to move forward with - products that offer multiple functions and benefits and that make women feel their best.
What kind of design philosophy do you have?
We design products that are intended for use and benefit. We aren’t creating art; we are creating apparel that meets a specific purpose for our customers. Think of us as industrial designers versus fashion designers. You’ll see this principal highlighted even more vividly in our next collections.
What are your favorite styles from both collections?
This is tough! From active I have to say our On The Go Jacket (which is a live-in essential) and from swim Fulya & I differ - her favorite is our Dive In One Piece and mine is our All Night One Piece.
What's next for Chikirina? Will you expand the collection? Do you ever think about selling accessories? Do you plan to collaborate with any other brands?
Yes to all actually :) We are currently working on our next line of products, which includes layering items, jackets, bags, mat carriers - you name it. Our goal is to start rolling these out by early 2017. We are also currently collaborating with a great local brand to launch a sports backpack, which will be on the market very soon!
What was your previous experience before you started Chikirina? Which experiences helped you on your Chikirina journey?
Chikirina is a bizarrely perfect fit for me considering my background and past experiences. I grew up almost over-active, running from dance training to gymnastics practice to volleyball practice daily. In my early teenage years, I also discovered yoga and then Pilates, and kind of got obsessed with Pilates, which is what I stuck with, and even teach now. Then while at my university in the Silicon Valley, as I was studying communications and retail merchandising, I got the opportunity to work for a startup and discovered the creative freedom that comes with building something new. My move to Istanbul after graduation opened up a new opportunity: combining my two loves of fashion and fitness, and joining forces with Fulya. My knowledge of the industry and trends in the US as a long-time consumer and her knowledge as a designer paired us as the perfect team.
Fulya is similar to me in terms of fitness. She has a strong background in sports and dance, and was in a dance company at METU, where she was initially studying engineering. After graduating, she realized engineering wasn’t for her, and decided to come to Istanbul to go to fashion school at La Salle. It turns out that engineering is a great starting point for design because it gives you a lot of those fundamentals that you need to create something. In her design career, she has worked for Mavi, KYO my Friend, New Yorker, Koton, and now Chikirina :)
How do you compete with big, established brands like Nike and Adidas? Or how and with what do you attract customers in an environment where such big brands exist?
We don’t actually consider Nike & Adidas our direct competition. They will always be there and we can’t scale our business to theirs at this point. The fact that those big players were the ones dominating the market here was one of the reasons we wanted to get into the industry. We want to build our own identity as a boutique brand and build a community of like-minded people who believe in our vision and mission. People often find us and feel connected to our story: two young women looking to build something and inspire people to be their best selves through the products we create and the messages we deliver. Once they interact with our products, we often get feedbacks about our fabrics, the femininity of our pieces, and our careful thought into certain minor details (secret slip pockets, finger holes on jackets, breathable mesh detailing, removable padding, etc.).
Do you have any advice for those looking to start a business?
If you’d be willing to do it for free, it’s something worth exploring. And if it’s a true passion, then it won’t feel like work. That’s what you need to keep pushing through, especially in the early days. You have to take the whole thing as one big learning experience, and if you love what you do and would continue to choose it day after day, then any outcome makes it worth it. There will be times when you wake up and think how much easier it would be to just show up and do what someone tells you to do. But loving what you do is the most important thing. Fulya & I would do this for free and you basically have to do so in the beginning. But if your heart is in it, you can’t go wrong.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard and that you repeat to others?
This is a quote actually: “My favorite thing about everything is that you have the power to change anything”. I’ve got this one saved to my phone home screen and it keeps me grounded when I feel like I’m losing control. In life, and especially in running your own business, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel powerless about your own situation. But it’s a good reminder that we all have the ability to change and impact our own lives. You just have to act on it.