Meet this Young Turkish Entrepreneur

Sanjusoman
4 min readJan 6, 2024

Most of us know Turkey for its mystical Sufi dance, the playful antics of the ice cream vendors with long caps, and the amazing flavors of Mediterranean food. As 2023 drew to a close, Sonu and I decided to travel to Antalya, a beautiful city on the southern coast of Turkey. With its rich history and picturesque Mediterranean backdrop, we were excited to see what this renowned destination had in store for us.

Sonu and I have always believed the spirit of a new place reveals itself not in the bustling tourist spots but in the rhythm of its streets, the vibrant colors, the name board designs, the dressing of people and the intricate designs of houses and shops. We wandered through the Kaleici old town’s ancient cobbled lanes, which had a lot of shops, fancy restaurants and lots and lots of cats around.

It was winter, and the streets were quiet, with shopkeepers casually chit-chatting, enjoying the lull in tourist traffic. Every shop we entered offered us their aromatic fruity local tea, it's a must-try. I particularly enjoyed the Eucalyptus- Apple tea.

Streets of Antalya

As we walked along, our attention was caught by the vibrant designs of carpets and bags that were hung outside the entrance of a little shop named Nisan. We paused, admiring the craftsmanship from a distance.

The thought of venturing inside crossed our minds, but we hesitated. We were on a tight budget, and experience had taught us that stepping into a shop often led to irresistible purchases. We knew our weakness for beautiful, well-made items and the persuasive charm of skilled shopkeepers. So, with a shared glance, we decided to move on, trying to resist the magnetic pull of the colourful bags and carpets. But as fate would have it, we found ourselves ‘accidentally’ falling into the very trap we sought to avoid.

Some pillow cover designs

A young, charming entrepreneur, Serkan welcomed us inside with a mix of Turkish and broken English. The shop was a storehouse of tradition, with beautiful, handcrafted bags displayed against the backdrop of intricate carpets designs.

The young shopkeeper, eager to share his story, revealed that we were his first customers of the day. He started the shop just a few months back, transitioning from working in a carpet manufacturing shop to starting his venture. He spoke with pride about the craftsmanship behind each bag, the anticipation of the incoming summer season in April, and his dreams of growing his business.

As he introduced us to his kids and wife through stories and photographs, his world came alive before our eyes. He offered us a generous discount and insisted us buy the bags which we did.

His passion deeply resonated with me. I, too, had been a social entrepreneur with a startup called Bhava, where we passionately upcycled pre-loved sarees into bags. I knew the thrill of creation, the joy of sharing your craft with others, and the bittersweet journey of an entrepreneur. At Bhava, we upcycled about around 40,000 kg of pre-owned sarees into unique bags, providing sustainable livelihoods for around 30 women from the Vembanad wetland Ramsar region in Alappuzha, Kerala. Unfortunately, due to the impact of COVID-19, we had to make the tough decision to pause operations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3DYBckSAh8&pp=ygUVYmhhdmEgc3RvcnkgYWxhcHB1emhh

We left Serkan’s shop, with a piece of Antalya and an appreciation for the local efforts of the weaving community in Turkiye.

That’s a bag we bought

I write this article to share not just our experience but to encourage others to seek out the soul of the places they visit. Antalya, with its stunning vistas, incredible cuisine, and warm hospitality, is more than a destination; it’s a feeling. Winter, with fewer crowds, is an ideal time to explore this gem of the Mediterranean.

To those planning a journey to Antalya, I urge you to wander its ancient streets, to stop and chat with the local artisans, to listen to their stories. Buy local, and support the dreamers and creators who are the backbone of every culture. Let your travel be a means to connect, support, and cherish the local communities that make every place unique.

Here are five simple tips for buying locally in Antalya:

  1. Opt for local supermarkets to purchase coffee powder, tea, and spices; they’re often more reasonably priced than tourist-targeted shops.
  2. While many places accept cards, carrying some cash is handy for smaller shops that might not have card facilities.
  3. Choose local clothing and food items as souvenirs; they’re unique and hold the true essence of the place.
  4. Skip the plastic bags and bring your own to be more eco-friendly and to keep the city clean.
  5. Use Google Translate to communicate with shopkeepers and artisans. Learn how to say thank you in the local language. (Teşekkürler in Turkish)
Sonu posing with the young ice cream vendor

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Sanjusoman

Sanju Soman, co-founder of SUSTERA & UN Youth Climate Leader, enhances India's climate resilience through innovative capacity building and conservation.