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INTERVIEW

MR. SAIT AKARLILAR
President of Mavi Jeans
  Mr. Sait Akarlilar
Mr. Sait Akarlilar
President of Mavi Jeans

Before we discuss the success of your company, Mavi Jeans, I would like to ask you a general question regarding Turkey's turbulent economic history. It is true that the country has been struggling, however last year Turkey was the fastest-growing emerging market in the world. This clearly indicates the country's great potential. In your opinion, how can Turkey take advantage of it and what measures do you foresee to be necessary in order to stimulate the economy?

There's a great opportunity for the Turkish economy to grow. We can see this from increased production and exports. Turkey's current economic policy focuses on expanding this further. With that said, there are mainly two problem areas: one is the high cost of energy, and second the cost of labor is very expensive in Turkey since it makes up more than 50 percent of production costs. These are the two elements which the government must focus on right now and we expect that it is on their agenda to bring about some solutions to these issues.

Turkey's textile sector plays a crucial role in the economy and accounts for 40 percent of Turkey's total exports. How would you explain the success you have experienced in this sector?

The textile industry constitutes about 40 percent of Turkish exports. Within this sector, ready-to-wear products are very important. At Mavi Jeans, by building a state of the art, world- class production facility, we've positioned ourselves as a leader, not only in Turkey, but in the global economy for textile production.

Mr. Akarlilar, you are a very successful businessman and when you were only 19-years-old you opened up your own shop. Since then, your business has increased every year and at the beginning of the 1980s, you started manufacturing jeans. What was the initial idea behind this creation? Were you ever concerned that manufacturing jeans would be difficult and highly competitive due to the presence of several strong international brands?

People who decide to start a company when they are 19-years-old must have a great deal of self-confidence and a willingness to take risks. From the start, I have worked with a great team of people. The success of a company isn't dependent on just one person - it is the sum of all efforts. The business has grown over the years because of the team effort and passion of our employees.

In 1991, after producing garments and jeans for many international brands, we decided to take the risk and develop our own - Mavi, which means "blue" in Turkish. We felt Turkey was ready for its own line of branded jeans. We weren't starting from scratch, we had 30 years' experience before we launched our own brand. Today, behind the success of Mavi Jeans, are 40 years of experience in the industry. If it weren't for my children, we might never have taken this risk. Their exposure to and understanding of youth culture and their own experiences abroad were key in making the decision. By 1996 Mavi had become the number one jeans brand in Turkey, and my son, who was studying in New York, had done research and said the time was right for us to expand into the U.S. market.

You have great expertise in and knowledge of the textile sector. Considering that Turkey has a lot of young, dynamic people with great ideas, what kind of advice would you like to give these young entrepreneurs when starting up their own businesses?

My basic advice to any young person looking to enter the textile or fashion industries would be to be honest, hard-working and to follow your passion. They also need to be patient because success doesn't come quickly. It comes with many hardships.

Returning again to Mavi. We see that today, Mavi is present all over the world. What kind of strategy do you plan to implement and what kind of challenges do you anticipate? What do you think will be the most important aspect in order to maintain the strong position you have established for your company?

Today, Mavi is sold in more than 50 countries. We have more than 3,000 employees and 3,220 selling points all over the world. We have about 7 million in sales, more than half in exports - 90 percent of this is in the U.S., Canada and Germany. Mavi is a jeans brand for young people, created by young people. It's a constant challenge to keep the brand young and fresh, while staying true to our core values. In the future, we are planning to open more stores - we currently have 85 in Turkey and have opened flagship shops in Vancouver and New York. Next, it will be Frankfurt and Berlin with other important cities of the world to follow.

I am from Sweden myself, when can I buy my first pair of Mavi Jeans there?

In establishing a showroom in Copenhagen to serve the Scandinavian market, we now have a number of retail selling points in the region, including Sweden.

You have recently opened up a very interesting store in New York. What sort of feedback have you gotten from it so far?

The response to our NYC flagship store has been great. It is ideally located in Union Square, right near NYU. Our strategy is to develop programming at the store that is not tied into shopping. We already have a gallery dedicated to up and coming artists and CineMavi twice a month where short films by up and coming filmmakers are shown. And we are also distributing Maviology - Mavi's lifestyle magazine, which we successfully sell in Turkey.

This success must be incredibly rewarding since the U.S. is the land of blue jeans. Has it been a challenge for Mavi to compete with big brands like Levis? How does it feel to be able to overcome a flagship brand of jeans that people grow up with?

We knew from the very start that the U.S. market was the top market with many challenges. We knew if we could be successful in the U.S., then all the other markets would be much easier to capture. We came into the market with a unique angle as the opening price point for designer brands. It attracted teenagers and college students who loved the fit, the quality and the price. After six years, we can say that we have been successful in capturing a segment of the U.S. marketplace.

So now, you are ready for what?

We have Mavi Jeans in Australia, we have Mavi Jeans in the UK, the U.S., Canada, Germany and Scandinavia. So right now, some vital operations are already established. We are not just thinking about expanding, but also want to concentrate on some of the markets we already have. Our aim is to strengthen our positions wherever we are, and then consider further expansion.

I know your son Mr. Ersin said that one of the worst things you can do is to age with your customers. What are the challenges presented by new fashion trends all over the world? How do you identify these new trends in order to take advantage of these new opportunities?

Again, one of the biggest challenges for any brand is to stay new and fresh for consumers. Mavi is a brand for young people by young people. We know that youth culture is constantly changing, especially as pop culture has become more global. We have a very young team in every part of the company. A lot of people find that the team is younger than they had expected. So, it is precisely with this young team that we are able to cope with ageing, and continue to be flexible - thanks also to our production capabilities.

The main principle of this company is to be able to have a quick response and be able to keep up with and ahead of fashion trends.

Which has been the most rewarding or satisfying day in your career. What has made you the happiest?

There isn't one day in particular. I feel very fortunate every day that my children work with me and have helped me grow the business - that we've opened a world class production facility, that we've opened a store in New York and we're continuing to experience growth in a very difficult economic time.

Thank you very much for your comments Mr. Akarlilar.


 
 
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