When Çiçekten Yeşilkaya decided to make more room for the brave fighter within, everything changed. It is always a turning point in peoples’ lives that creates a lasting and transforming change. With the wind that filled her sails upon this change, Yeşilkaya created a business endeavor focusing on discovering the flavor of Istanbul and its urban culture. She’s one of those people who can smell change from afar and knows how to take action to take advantage of it. She’s aware of the power of creative ideas, and knows how much difference experience can make. And the final word? She always leaves that to her heart…
- Let’s go back to the beginning of your story. Where and how did it start?
I was born in Istanbul, but I’m the child of a family whose members were relocated to Istanbul from Eastern (Kemah, Erzincan) and Western (Varna, Bulgaria) ends of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s as a result of the wars. I feel close to many places, as we moved a lot owing to my father’s job. But Istanbul is something else! I was lucky to spend most of my life in this magnificient city. I graduated from Kadıköy Maarif College and Boğaziçi University. My career started in Unilever and continued with various advertising agencies. Following that, for the next twenty years, I worked in various marketing management positions at Coca-Cola. After that, for the next four years, I worked as the marketing director at Mey İçki, the largest manufacturer and distributer of raki, the traditional and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in Turkey. In 2011, I moved to Spain and started to work as a management consultant. And finally, at the end of last year, the entreprenaur in me took flight and Sahi was born.
- Moving to a lot of places must have been a good experience in terms of getting to know and understanding this region. There are always turning points in success stories. What was the turning point for you?
There are two turning points in my story: Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, and deciding to join Mey İçki after my treatment. The first of these made me realize that life is very short and dreams should not be postponed. The fighting and brave woman within me decided to make more room for herself! The second point was the opportunity to work at Mey Icki which had a management model that was extremely suitable for my state of mind at the time.
-You are joyful, energetic, a bit playful but cautious. In this sense, how do you express yourself?
I value balance in life very much. My cautious side keeps me in balance. But you have to be playful, sometimes a bit rebellious even, to set your energy in motion.
"I’ve Never Lost My Curiosity and Appetite for Learning!”
- The secret of success lies largely in effective communication. What are the prerequisites for effective communication?
The first one is empathy. It’s difficult for a person with no empathetic intelligence to communicate effectively. The second one is being curious and never losing one’s appetite for learning.
- Where do you start from for change?
The need for change may arise from opportunities or problems. Both of these forces can energize one if analyzed correctly, but the important thing is being able to manage this change not just for oneself but for all others who will make things happen. The critical point is to show value for everyone involved.
- Is extreme attention to detail the secret to your success or do you have your own rules to seccess?
The rule that I strongly believe in is that opinions are wothless without knowledge. I value knowledge and experience above all else. I don't get along with, nor trust disingenuous people. All of my successes have stemmed from a deep passion and belief in what I am donig. I beleive that if I am passionate enough, I can do anything. It is the sharing of these same passions with my co-workers that motivates both me and them as well.
"My Heart Always Has The Final Word…"
- Do you stay on the safe side of things? What are your limits for taking risks?
I don’t refrain from taking risks, but I prefer to do this in a rational manner. In spite of this, I faced many situations where two times two didn’t equal four. In those circumstances, I engage my reason and my heart equally, buy my heart always has the final word.
- What is your relationship to time? Do you prefer to live in the moment or to plan before making decisions?
I like to live in a planned way, because I believe that the time we have in life is very precious and it should not be wasted. I can’t say I’m very spontaneous, but I think only by living in a planned way can I have the luxury of acting spontaneously now and then.
"Marketing is Seeing, Understanding and Relating.”
- Each definition can be a limitation. Sometimes, defining through complements can be more comprehensible. So perhaps, rather than “what is marketing?” one should say “what is not marketing?”
Marketing is the science of transforming opportunity to money or benefit, it’s the ability to create value. The first rule of marketing is seeing, understanding and relating. In order to do this, one should always be out there, be curious and question.
"Sahi is a Powerful Idea. It’s Passionately Attached to Istanbul.”
- Sahi is not only a “brand”, in fact it’s a powerful idea. How did this idea mature and spring into action?
Sahi is a cultural products marketing platform for Turkey’s wealth of arts, crafts and designers. It includes a wide spectrum of traditional and contemporary products from lokum (Turkish delight) to Turkish ceramics, from Hamam soap to hand-woven peshtamal and throws. The umbrella concept connecting the retail idea is the rich and dynamic urban culture of Istanbul. Istanbul is a city that connects traditional and modern, east and west, like a mosaic, or rather marbling. The concept of Sahi is a reflection of this notion. Thanks to Bosphorus Ferry, our e-mag which we designed as an urban culture magazine, that we are able to tell its stories, neighborhoods, people, artisans and designers weekly. We manage this medium through an editorial team, constituting of both local and foreign journalists/bloggers. Our store visuals, displays and sometimes products are fed by the content in our e-mag.
In this context, our stores are also a dynamic channel keeping up with the online world. We have our main store and café in Karaköy and a second one in Balat by the Golden Horn. Online purchasing is also available from our web site.
- Flavor and taste are important, but relative. On what basis do you choose your products?
Our criteria for traditional desserts sold at Sahi is that they are made by connoisseurs or masters of the field, by sticking to the original formula and using one hundred percent natural ingredients. This is also the case in pastry products, but while we unearthed some old and forgotten ethnic Istanbul desserts, we added some innovative touches to some of the desserts identified with Istanbul and known by all of us. We ensure that the design products are original and very predominantly produced by designers or workshops of Istanbul.
- Nowadays it’s become quite difficult to create a difference and differentiate oneself from others. What’s your compass in this respect?
Following trends closely and reading them accurately specific to our own market. Differentiation is not one dimensional. That is, not only the store concept, but also the packaging, communication tone and the channel we use must constitute integrity as a whole, and differ.
"We Established A Network Of Flavors With The Unique Flavors Of This Region.”
- How did you determine the product line?
Nowadays cafes that open in districts which preserve the old texture of Istanbul - just like many metropols around the world - are very much in fashion. We wanted to expand this concept with other trends such as the rising local and eclectic art, vintage fashion and nostalgia. As a reaction to the shopping mall concept, people enjoy socialising, shopping and discovering in such districts much more. We have a blend of products to serve all of these motivations; from original delicacies to share with friends over a cup of Turkish tea to personal unique and cool items to discover and give as a gift.
- With whom and how did you establish a network of flavors?
We have our baklava shipped from Gaziantep on a daily basis which is produced by the fifth generation of the founder of Antep Baklava, Mr.Ömer Güllü. Our pastry products are produced by “Alafırın” run by Petek Çırpılı. We also offer an Istanbul classic, sesame halvas, nostalgic waffles we remember fondly and traditional sweets and sugar candy in their highest quality and sometimes surprisingly with modern interpretations. As for designed souvenirs, we are working with diverse artists who very skillfully design porcelain, ceramic, silver, copper, glass or combine traditional weaving techniques on modern objects. Other than independent designers, our design team led by our Creative Director Artun Çinetçi design many products with a predominant Istanbul theme from packaging to stationaries, from bags to t-shirts for our own collection.
- As you know, this region has a very rich culture. Sharing this with the world is exciting but also a challenging task. What does Istanbul mean to you?
For me, Istanbul is the source of my family, my life, my friends. Not only is this magnificent city the center of my hapiness but of the world! While it has envolved and undergone enormous changes over the years, it has stayed "the city of world's desire"
There’s a great deal of interest in Istanbul, but actually the most important elements to distinguish it from other metropolitan cities or touristic destinations still await a correct promotion and creation of values. The gastronomic aspect of this promotion is newly awakening, but in the culture part, we are telling Istanbul to foreigners from a just a single dimension: the Ottomans. This is not sufficient, as Istanbul has many stories to tell.
- Sahi came to life in Balat and Karaköy. Both of these are special and unique districts with character that are indispensible for Istanbul and Turkey. And now Sahi is a new resident of these places. Can it get along well with its neighbors?
I love to see the increasing dynamism of both of these districts which are true examples of Istanbul’s soul. It ıs a pleasure to see that almost all of our neighbors care so much to preserve this character just like us. Our building in Karaköy has been renovated totally in line with the characteristics of this district to reflect its Italian and Ottoman past.
"We Want To Share What We Learn. ".
- Sahi cherishes the value of sharing. It brings into its focus this city, happiness and life. It also feels the excitement of discovering. How will the sharing be at Sahi?
As far as Turkey, but in particular, Istanbul is concerned, there are so many things to share. For this reason, we designed our website as an urban cultural magazine. There are quite a few things we pass by everyday but don’t know the story of. We want to share the things we learn. Other than these, we also have people, artisans, artists and entrepreneurs doing great things. We want to expose these people and the values they create to the rest of the world, and help them to become inspirational for others. My wish is to expand these concept to other locations in the future.
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