What was it like to launch an indie clothing line before Instagram & Facebook?

Lisa Bentsen

Hot damn. If Cem and I had launched our brand Amma ve Lakin today instead of in 2007, the experience of running our high-end clothing line would have been completely different. We hailed from an era when Facebook pages had just launched, e-commerce sites weren’t easy to set up, and nobody was interested in each others lunches.

As 20-year-olds we were fortunate to have found (and built relationships with) a manufacturer who invested time and resources in us. We produced our first batch and sold 2 lines at boutiques in Istanbul and New York and through an online platform called Takeaway Istanbul.

Dealing with retailers was a pain considering we couldn’t keep track of the inventory they sold and had to trust that they were giving us the right numbers. Alas, consignment was our only option.

We wasted a lot of time trying to stay in touch with retailers, thinking that without them we wouldn’t be able to reach our audience. Meanwhile our online sales through Take Away Istanbul were doing well, with minimal effort on our part.

At this point we should have taken a hint and let go of our brick & mortar weights by focusing on what worked: online sales. But we simply didn’t see it as an option and assumed that the Turkish internet ecosystem (with its payments and delivery services) wasn’t mature enough to provide quality low-cost services for bootstrap small businesses like ours.

But we had enough data in our hands that proved e-commerce worked. A fear and lack of belief in the ecosystem (and the fact that we were pretty young) kept us from further experimenting with online sales channels.

So what happened next? Even though we were getting great feedback, press coverage and even celebrity endorsements, our inexperience dealing with retailers brought the end of us.

The icing on the cake was when I made the mistake of shipping samples to a famous American retail chain which I will not name. This chain ordered 500 units of a design from our second collection. We were full of excitement with a hint –ok, a scoop–of naiveté. We sent in a vendor agreement and they stopped answering our emails and calls shortly after.

3 months later my friend sent me an email with the title “suspiciously familiar”. She had sent an image of a design from their online catalogue. And boy did it look suspiciously familiar indeed. We weren’t sure wether we should be flattered that they ripped off our design or hug & weep.

A random shop in Istanbul

Then we received another major order, this time from a famous Turkish brand. We were doing our best to reach deadlines, but our best wasn’t fast enough. Alas we were moving so slowly that random manufacturers were knocking off our designs.

Meanwhile I was under family pressure to go back to college, for at the time I had taken a leave of absence.

Now this is supposed to be the paragraph where I self justify and talk about what an amazing journey and learning experience it was. And it was. We were college sophomores slowly learning how to navigate through the business world. I learned that getting stuck while focusing on just one aspect of a business prevents you from noticing obvious patterns and catching opportunities. I learned that relationships are what matter the most.

All in all it was early twenties well spent. Cem and I have continued our friendship to this day and ever since we met he’s always been a source of inspiration.

We’re also super excited to announce that, after 10 years *gasp* we will have a limited edition micro collection out for 2016. You can find us over at to.be/ammavelakin

Hakim Abdi