An interview with Turquoise Shoes creator, Baris Sozen

Picture of womens shoe by Turquoise
Style M23 from the Turquoise 2015 collection
© Turquoise

Instantly recognisable on dance floors around the world, Turquoise Shoes are known for their unique look, comfort and style. They’ve been hand-crafted in Istanbul, Turkey since 2007. Baris Sozen is co-founder and co-owner of Turquoise Shoes and the creative force behind its gorgeous designs. I started by asking him how Turquoise came about:

In 2005 I was working as a trader in the Treasury of a big local bank. That year I started dancing tango and visited Argentina and everything changed. When I first tried tango I could not believe I hadn’t found it sooner in life. It had a huge impact on me. I had a nice career – can you imagine from the most materialistic world of bonds and currency speculations and trading, I transformed into someone totally different. That is because of tango. I have to thank tango for what I transformed into. Dancing – feelings that I had never had before – changed me completely. After the unique way of communication between partners, I realised that I had never had such a deep communication with women before. So of course I got more into it. I realised that over the preceding 35 years I never really understood what women really want. That’s before I started to date my girlfriend, Hande Orhan, and I feel like I am a much better partner in the relationship because of this experience. So, a big search for a better understanding of women started inside me. The shoe business was a reflection of that but not that simple a one.

In the meantime, while I was in financial industry, the economic crisis came and changed our lives. So it seems, life is not without a sense of humour! Because of this both my working partners and my girlfriend’s business had to stop trading. At the same time our quest got going to find the perfect shoe – the motivation was to find them for Hande. It all started as the search for shoes for her!

During this whole process, I was fascinated by how women react to shoes, and I was cross that I had taken my whole life to realise these things! During my visit to Buenos Aires that year, I was deeply impressed by how it is nice to really make something and see people excited about that thing. That feeling forced me to really understand what is beauty, what is nice, what are aesthetics and how these are achieved.

Photo of Baris Sozen
Baris Sozen, co-founder and co-owner
© Turquoise

Back from Buenos Aires, with that passion to make something nice and something that people are excited about, I started to look for shoe manufacturers and the search was worldwide. I did that for a year until I found an old manufacturer who was willing to teach and willing to learn the particular style I wanted. He let me in the “kitchen”. It was a collaborative process for 2 years. While I was searching to understand how to make a better shoe, I was learning the manufacturing process and reading and talking with other good producers – great global brands – I was teaching what I found out to my manufacturer. I learned a lot and so did he. He improved so much that he started to get big orders from very well known brands and that was the end of our collaboration. Although he wanted to carry on, he couldn’t manage those big orders and my order together.

After a little while searching I realised I would be satisfied only if I did it myself. And so Turquoise was born.

I must mention how crucial Hande was to the birth of the business. Whilst I was learning with the old manufacturer she too started working closely with him and learned a lot. She was instrumental in building up the company: she created the store from scratch and was our designer, salesperson, marketer and business runner for a long time. It wouldn’t be the successful business it is today without her.

What do you love about shoemaking?

I think it is not just the shoes, it is about creating something. I think the purpose of life is experiencing this world. Experiencing is an ongoing journey and creating things is a big part of it. I generally love creating things – I do painting, I do photo shooting, even when I dance it is in a creative way. Making the same things over and over again bores me; I need to experience new things in everything I do. Shoe making is an extension of that creativity.

Does your passion for creativity, and for the craft of shoemaking, leave any room for innovation and new technology?

I’m excited by new ideas and technology and people who know me well know that when my production is on I’m always having new ideas. Shoe making is mostly handmade but the materials that you use, the components, can be new technology. For a while I was a bit obsessed with shock absorbing technology. I got very involved in getting the padding in the shoes just right. There are always new things coming and I embrace innovation if it means I can make the product even better. I developed a much better outer sole, which we have recently implemented and got very good feedback. It is flexible and better at grabbing the floor; there is no brand I know that can even get close to that outer sole. It is completely my original idea and I’m in the process of officially registering on the behalf of our company, which is really exciting.

Photo of womens shoes in workshop
Shoes on the production line awaiting final inspection
© Turquoise

Turquoise shoes are known for their unusual colours and patterns. The embossed snake and metallic patent leathers in the current collection are stunning. Is it hard to get good materials?

It took me years to fully understand the leather business. To get the best materials you need to appreciate what goes into their production, the myriad leathers available and what kind of finishing you need. It’s a huge subject. It’s quite simple to just go out and buy the leather, but now we have the experience and financial capability we are able to order whatever we want, which allows for more creativity.

Is it a big team at Turquoise? What do you do when not designing?

We are a pretty small team. I started the business with Hande Orhan and she is still involved a little. Hasan Seremet runs our very successful distribution in North America. Yagmur Seker manages our shoe store in Istanbul. We have an amazing team of eight production staff doing the manufacturing. When I’m not designing I take care of marketing, sales, production and distribution channels. I wish there was more time, there is always so much to do! I love it though.

Photo of Hande Orhan
Hande Orhan, Co-Founder and Co-Owner
© Turquoise
Photo of Hasan Seremet
Hasan Seremet, Executive Partner
© Turquoise
Photo of Yagmur Seker
Yagmur Seker, Store Manager
© Turquoise
Photo of Turquoise store
The Turquoise store in Istanbul
© Turquoise

You haven’t mentioned yet your shoes for men, Turquoise Leon. Tell me about designing those.

It’s a different experience altogether for me. I have made lots of improvement on the mens shoes. They get great feedback and I am proud of the quality, but it’s different. It’s not because they’re not interesting but because men just don’t react to shoes. I don’t see men getting so excited about their shoes so I don’t get excited about men shoes. Men take shoes on a functional basis while women are buying from a totally different perspective.

Photo of mens shoe by Turquoise
Style 02 from the Turquoise Leon collection
© Turquoise

I like how the current designs are quite edgy. Anything new and exciting on the horizon?

I always have a lot of ideas in my mind. Currently I’m working on shoes for brides, and expanding the ballerina flats range. What excites me is the idea of supplying the most comfortable ballerina shoe ever. It will be a new brand, called “maSoireé” which means “my night”. It started after a request from a bride. She wanted to have a comfortable ballerina shoe to wear in later hours of her wedding.

Interesting. Turquoise Shoes are incredibly comfortable as they are but I can see that idea being popular with dancers who want to switch to flats at the end of the night, particularly during a festival or marathon. Personally I’m always looking for the perfect flat shoe so can’t wait to see what you produce!

Let’s talk about tango some more. What do you love about it?

Everything. I love the music, I like that there is a depressing mood and a playful rhythm existing together in such beautiful harmony. I love connecting to another human being and experiencing that moment together. It is perfect. It is life.

Photo of Moira Castellano dancing in Turquoise shoes
Moira Castellano at Tango to Istanbul 2015 in style M45 by Turquoise
© Turquoise and Tango Paparazzo

How is the tango scene in Istanbul? I hear the festivals and marathons are some of the best!

Tango in Istanbul is huge! There are really good dancers and there is ongoing tango tourism from Europe to Istanbul. People find it cheaper to come down here and dance with our leaders rather than taking some 10-15 hour flight and going to Buenos Aires.

Readers, check out Tango to Istanbul and Milonga Istanbul for starters.

Photo of Turquoise shoes on beach
Another idyllic day in Turkey. Shoes by Turquoise.
© Turquoise and AlperTürkay Photography

Do you have a favourite place to dance?

Yes of course, I love to go to Armada on Mondays and La Cumparsita on Tuesdays. Friday I love going to Tangolic.

Ok, my last question. Let’s play “Fantasy Milonga”! You can choose a venue and invite whomever you like, living or past – dancers, bandleaders, musicians, singers. Whom would you choose and where would it be?

There is this story of Carlos Di Sarli, about his song Bahia Blanca. As far as I know, he refused his planned career path and started playing piano in a band. After a country-wide trip Di Sarli realised he hadn’t picked the best option for himself. The tour was not a success and he lost everything for joining that band, including his family which was wealthy. He got depressed and returned to the city where he was born and composed Bahia Blanca, with which I totally empathise and feel how he felt. I would love to see him in person. So, Di Sarli.

I love to improvise, as much as I can, and I really like to dance with D’Arienzo. I love to dance with that rhythm. Also I think the best singer that fits his music, my idea is, Echague. So, D’Arienzo and Echague are invited.

I also like the orchestra Color Tango, with the violin solos or bandoneon solos playing exaggerated dramatic notes of Pugliese. So they are also invited.

I guess, in one of my trips I would never forget that I had to dance with Geraldine Rojas for almost 1 hour straight. So, yes, she should be there!!!

I would also like to invite Mariana Chicho and Juana, my maestro Gustavo Naviera and my great friends Mario Consiglieri and Anabella. I guess I might have the right to dance with every woman I like to? : )

And I would like to add some local taste too, like Burcu İris Tekin a great dancer. Also Ilgın Tetikcan, Vanessa Arabacıoglu, Zeynep Aktar and Selen Sürek.

Well, I guess if the is just up to me, I would just add women, so that is my list!!

Thanks Baris.

Turquoise Shoes for women are available in the UK exclusively from Amy’s. New styles and mens shoes may be ordered through Amy’s from the collection at Turquoise in Istanbul.

 

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