Tuesday, 26 May 2020
ARZU KARA is the proprietor of the Arzu Kara Fashion House based in Newtown Road, Henley. Born and educated in Istanbul, she came to Britain to study when she was 19. She studied English at City of Oxford College before attending Reading College to study for a degree in fashion and textiles and then went to Central Saint Martins in London. In 2004 she moved to Henley, where she lives with her husband Hora Tevfik, a property developer, and their daughters, Olivia, two, and nine-month-old Sofia.
Describe your business
I’m a womenswear designer and create ready to wear collections twice a year for stylish women over 30. I also offer a bespoke service and do quality designer alterations. We have stockists worldwide. Fluidity, the wonderful fashion shop in Bell Street, is our nearest.
How many people does it employ?
I have two sub-contracted seamstresses working with me. I couldn’t live without them.
What did you do before you started the business?
While studying I worked as a nanny and was also making my own clothes for friends. I then worked at prestigious fashion houses in London as a studio assistant and junior designer.
When did you start your business?
I started properly in 2006. I worked from home for two years before moving to my studio in Newtown Road.
What was your objective?
I didn’t have one and I fell into this by chance. As a result of making my own clothes, I was approached by Sue Lewis, who liked my designs and asked me to make some clothes for her. She was my first client. Soon I was designing and making clothes for other people too and I realised I had started a business. Sue and I have become good friends since then.
Who or what influenced you?
Possibly my dad, who ran his own building contractor business in Turkey and is entrepreneurial but I always dreamt of working for a renowned fashion house.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
My husband Hora, who I met in 2010 and is incredibly inspiring and is open and innovative.
How is your business doing?
Phenomenally well, I’m happy to say.
How do you market your business?
I have lots of repeat customers and recommendations and word of mouth brings a lot of new clients. My website is important for my ready to wear line and I use social media, mainly Instagram, because it’s so visual and fits well with my business model.
How important are online sales?
I make sales from the website and have sold clothes to people in several countries. The latest buyer was a lady in New York. The internet is an incredible place where you can peruse so many boutiques without leaving your sofa. Brick and mortar shops are wonderful but the global shopper is favouring online.
Where is your business headed?
I have introduced a bag line as I absolutely love handbags and this has been a dream for a while. I want to build my brand so people recognise it.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
Being my own boss. I love the flexibility, which I appreciate more after having a family. When I go to my studio it’s like going to my “happy place”.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Doing it alone. Being creative is easy for me but being in business can be hard.
What would you do differently if you could begin again?
I would have taken more risks, said yes to new opportunities and believed in myself more. I had confidence in myself as a designer but not as a business person.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
Stay true to yourself and follow your gut instincts and be bold when necessary.
What would you advise someone starting a business?
Know your subject/market, believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to take risks.
What three qualities are most important in running a business?
Think ahead, have a plan and be determined.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Once I made a collection by following what was on trend but did not reflect my style or what I would wear. I wasn’t terribly proud of the clothes and it showed as they didn’t do well. Now I always go with my creative instinct. A few years ago the studio was broken into and my entire stock was stolen along with my computer. I lost everything, including all my data and images. I had the premises insured but not the stock and I didn’t have my data backed up — two important lessons that I learned the hard way.
What’s the secret of your success?
I adore what I do. When I was young I would save up to buy fashion magazines and I’ve never had to wonder what I wanted to do.
How organised are you?
I’m not really as organised as I’d like to be.
How do you dress for work each day?
I love to wear beautifully cut dresses in natural fabrics, especially in the summer. I also love shoes and have an obsession with handbags. But I have to be comfortable when I work so I wear well-cut jeans and quality tops.
What can’t you do/be without every day?
Seeing my babies and coffee.
Lunch at your desk or going out?
Pre-children, it was always at my desk while checking my emails. These days I skip lunch (or have a snack like nuts) if I am in the studio as I need to get home to my children by 3pm.
What do you read?
I am currently reading Brain Rules by John Medina and I have subscriptions to Vogue, Porter and the Economist.
How are you planning for retirement?
Hora wants to see the world and I’ll happily travel with him!
12 August 2019
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