As the holiday season draws near, the question of what to buy for family members and loved ones weighs heavily on most of our minds. But a small shop in Beyoğlu may have the answer to many of the gaps on our gift lists. Nahıl is run by members of the nonprofit KEDV (Foundation for the Support of Women's Work). The shop sells products made by women from all of Turkey, and the proceeds help to support women's collectives and childcare services for low-income women.
The KEDV was founded in 1986 by a group of friends in Istanbul. The organization aims to support women's economic empowerment at a local level. Covering one mahalle (neighborhood) each, the cooperatives affiliated with the KEDV now number over 100. Keeping the organization tied to local communities empowers women without alienating them from their families or neighbors. And the women who sell their goods at Nahıl remain connected to their communities through the childcare the KEDV supports.
As the commercial arm of the KEDV, Nahıl carries spa products, erişti (homemade pasta), jams, olive oil, toys, pomegranate syrup, towels and more. KEDV member Şule Alpaslan oversees the cozy shop just off of İstiklal Caddesi. Nahıl is lined with stocked shelves. In a back section of the store, they also sell donated clothing. The profits are channeled back to the collectives for services such as day care, or the money is added to emergency funds.
One of Nahıl's success stories is a women's collective in Mardin. Five years ago, the KEDV decided to start a soap-making business. Since that time the group and its products have teamed up with a local group and continued to evolve. Alpaslan explains: “They are improving the products and adding new variations. They have become a women's cooperative and childcare center.”
Community support and development
According to the KEDV's members, collectives with strong ties to their neighborhoods can improve local conditions better than an external organization. For this reason, the KEDV prefers to work with preexisting local women's groups. According to KEDV coordinator Didem Demircan, “Local women's collectives offer training, childcare services and the opportunity to earn an income. They have a big effect on the neighborhoods where they are established.” All the KEDV's projects rely on a synergy between the women and their communities.
KEDV director and founding member Şengül Akçar describes connectedness with the women's communities as a guiding principle of the organization. One of the services with the largest effect on local communities is the KEDV's childcare program. Demircan describes these childcare centers as “sustainable centers with low expenses, mainly run by people in the neighborhood.” Without childcare, many women would be unable to work, receive training or attend workshops. Thus, the KEDV's childcare centers are essential for the production of Nahıl's goods.
Nahıl sells a variety of artisanal products. Village women in Turkey have long been producing items such as hand-milled soap, candles and embroidery for their families. Now the KEDV and Nahıl provide an opportunity for the same women to turn their pre-existing skills into a marketable business.
Developing new products
Demircan explains the organization's role in product development: “We work with women one-on-one to improve the products in relation to the market. We sometimes change the design, the texture or the materials, and we work with them to try to find the best product they can produce. Then we sell it at Nahıl.” She also describes this system as a learning process for the collectives and a way of maintaining traditional elements while also making the products marketable. “If women cannot sell it, it is unfortunately a waste of time,” she notes.
In addition to the group in Mardin, the KEDV also has a strong relationship with a women's collective in Hatay. In partnership with the KEDV and the Sabancı Foundation, this local group produces high-quality olive oil and sells its products at Nahıl.
The KEDV and Nahıl can help women because they utilize their preexisting skills. Each project is developed within the individual collectives. While the collectives are the driving force behind their projects, the KEDV and Nahıl provide support and guidance. Even the World Bank has recognized the KEDV's training methods and workshops.
By developing their own products and projects, local women can address their needs directly. It seems to be working; Nahıl supports 23 women's and children's centers in 12 cities and has enabled the care of over 10,000 children aged three to six, all while keeping the Beyoğlu store in business. Nahıl consistently offers high-quality goods. As proof of the products' reputation, the shop has been in partnership with respected companies such as Carrefour, Boyner and Marks & Spencer.
Demircan believes that if foreigners want to support the organization and working women, one of the best things they can do is stop by the shop. Visitors can pick up the perfect gift for their loved ones, or they can place larger orders. In the past, companies have used the collectives for their yearly Christmas or New Year's gifts for employees. A fixture behind the counter, Alpaslan can arrange bulk orders and deliveries. Deliveries can even be packaged in boxes produced by another women's collective.
A visit to Nahıl is more than just a holiday shopping experience. The profits return directly to local women, shoppers walk away with unique gifts, and together, Turkish women and consumers have an opportunity to contribute to the lives of underprivileged women and children across the country.
*Nahıl is located on İstiklal Caddesi, Bekar Sokak, No. 17 Beyoğlu, İstanbul. Tel: 0212 251 90 85 www.nahil.com.tr Hours: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., closed on Sundays.