After the Ready-to-Wear, Accessories, Debut Talent and Evening Wear nominees, we’re moving on to the penultimate group of FTA Prize 2022 finalists. Today, we go to Turkey, the homeland of Hussein Chalayan, and our latest Guest Country after Colombia in 2021.

Here, we’ll discover why Bünyamin Aydin (Les Benjamin’s), Burç Akyol, Ceylin Türkan Bilge (Siedrés) and Sansim Adali (Sudietuz) decided to apply to this year’s FTA Prize, and uncover everything about their relationship with fashion, their goals, loves and their plans for the future.

Who will succeed the talented Agustín Nicolas Riveiro, the winner of last year’s edition? All bets are open!

BÜNYAMIN AYDIN: “THANKS TO THE FTA PRIZE, I WILL BE PART OF CREATING, BUILDING, AND MOVING OUR CULTURE FORWARD.”

1/ What pushed you to send in your submission to this year’s FTA Prize? What do you expect from this experience?

I’ve been following the FTA Prize for a while, and being a Middle Eastern designer, I feel part of the design and fashion movement of our region. It’s the most prestigious event in our region, and I want to be part of creating, building, and moving our culture forward. I expect to contribute and grow as a fashion designer and creative. Knowledge is very rare, and there is never too much to learn.

2/ What was the first object related to fashion (a piece of clothing, jewelry, an accessory…) that dazzled you when you were a kid, and why?

It was never an object. I wanted to create the first brand out of the Middle East that could be truly a global fashion brand, with a base in Istanbul. Building a community that consists of Turks and Arabs has always been my goal. I’ve built a community of young creatives from our region over the years. We fuel each other to create more and to give hope to others that it is doable.

3/ What was the trigger that made you realize that you wanted to be a fashion designer and nothing else?

I saw the power of fashion for society and how wearing a look or item can mean so much more than just wearing a product. I love history, sociology, art, music, and the individual identities that all contribute to my creative thinking process.

4/ Which fashion designer, Arab or international, inspired you, and why?

Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Hiroshi Fujiwara inspired me to become a designer at age 17. I saw how they built Japan’s fashion culture, and I said to myself that I could do the same for the Middle East. Culturally, but also from a fashion angle.

5/ What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?

I don’t judge anyone. Let everyone be free to wear what they want. All I can say is that you should have your own identity in what you wear.

6/ What was your worst fashion faux-pas?

I remember when I first started and a couple of years into the brand, roughly around 2014, I was presenting my collection during Paris Fashion Week, I was hiding my identity due to some comments I got for just being Turkish or Middle Eastern. A lot of people did not understand, or take my region seriously in the industry. Still today, a lot of Middle Eastern designers are suffering from this and they pretend to be someone else to be recognized or be more valuable. Therefore, for the past seven years, I’ve been owning my identity and showing the world that you can be Turkish and Middle Eastern and create a global fashion brand.

7/ If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any other designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

This would be my look. Homme Plissé Issey Miyake Balloon Pants, Gildan Men’s G2000 Ultra Cotton Tees, Maison Margiela leather split-toe boots, and my Chrome Hearts & Goro’s jewelry.

8/ Who do you dream of dressing?

My dream was always to dress Jay Z and Pharrell, as both have revolutionized fashion and music. I was fortunate enough to see both in Les Benjamins already. The most important thing for me is that it’s organic and real.

9/ What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?

It means survival and “now” for me. Sustainability is essential for the survival of humankind. As fashion designers, we are one of the world’s biggest polluters, and I have taken action to educate myself more in this field. I don’t want to overpromise and under deliver, that’s why I’m taking my time to educate myself and my team first. Les Benjamins has long-term plans to embed sustainability as part of our DNA. My dream is to be able to produce more responsibly and have a circular approach. I hope to meet individuals who can help me gain knowledge in this field.

10/ What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed?

We Middle Eastern designers judge each other too much, and we do not celebrate each other’s success. This has been an ongoing issue and something I’ve been trying to tackle by myself. I try to support younger designers, mentor creatives and designers, and discuss unity of strength with them. We can only grow as a region if we stick together and celebrate each other. This is probably why I applied for FTA Prize. I want us all to win.

BURÇ AKYOL: “FTA BUILDS BRIDGES BETWEEN PEOPLE AND CULTURES FOR THE SAKE OF BEAUTY WITH A CAPITAL B.”

1/ What pushed you to send in your submission to this year’s FTA Prize? What do you expect from this experience?

The only competition in the world to have a category for Guest Country is the FTA prize. This says a lot about the hospitality, the generosity and the essence of being an Oriental soul. The FTA builds bridges between people and cultures for the sake of Beauty with a capital B. I want to walk on that bridge and grow with the encounters that this Prize will bring. In Turkish we have a saying: “Kan kani çeker” (“blood calls blood”), this means that we recognize people who share the same heritage as ourselves without having to say a word. My Turkish origins, Oriental origins, are such an inspiration in my work; I am excited to be around people who will feel like home and have a closer appreciation of the very personal references in my collections.

2/ What was the first object related to fashion (a piece of clothing, jewelry, an accessory…) that dazzled you when you were a kid, and why?

The coat that my father made for himself. When I was a kid, my father worked as a tailor for French couture maisons. I remember the pride on his face when he had finished the piece.

3/ What was the trigger that made you realize that you wanted to be a fashion designer and nothing else?

Seeing my father work and John Galliano’s shows for Dior Haute Couture. As a kid, seeing these shows on TV, the level of creative brilliance, story-telling and dream-like clothes, really caught my heart. I knew then that I wanted to be part of this incredible world where you must master so many talents to make your vision come to life.

4/ Which fashion designer, Arab or international, inspired you, and why?

Alaïa. Everything he did was precise and desirable.

5/ What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?

I don’t think there is such a thing as the wrong piece of clothing, it’s about what’s right for you.

6/ What was your worst fashion faux-pas?

Wearing skater-sneakers in high school. I don’t skate…

7/ If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any other designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

My black tuxedo suit. Sexy, austere, formal, classic, ageless, genderless and in a world full of sweats and jeans, it is outstanding, it is even rebellious.

8/ Who do you dream of dressing?

Timothée Chalamet, in my black tuxedo and black silk tulle dress.

9/ What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?

It means future. There is no future without sustaining the present.

10/ What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed?

As I don’t have any experience with the MENA fashion industry yet, I am not able to answer this question.

CEYLIN TÜRKAN BILGE: “THE FTA PRIZE IS AN INVALUABLE EXPERIENCE FOR US, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER WE WIN OR NOT.”

1/ What pushed you to send in your submission to this year’s FTA Prize? What do you expect from this experience?

As an emerging fashion brand, participating in this year’s FTA competition will be an invaluable experience for us, regardless of whether we win or not. The exposure we receive will generate world-wide brand recognition and will create a space for us to improve ourselves as a brand. It is such an exciting time for us! And we know that the people we meet, and feedback we receive, will add meaningful value to us. On another note, we are also excited for Turkish brands in general to receive more brand recognition and exposure worldwide, and to be a part of that is an honor.

2/ What was the first object related to fashion (a piece of clothing, jewelry, an accessory…) that dazzled you when you were a kid, and why?

My family business is in textile manufacturing so I’ve been into fabrics ever since I could remember. But there’s one childhood memory in particular that comes to mind which serves as a turning point in my relationship to fashion. One day, I was dazzled by some fabric that my father had brought home from the factory. Together we used that fabric to make shalwar pants and a crop top for me, which I then wore with suspenders.

3/ What was the trigger that made you realize that you wanted to be a fashion designer and nothing else?

While I was always passionate about fashion, I almost decided to study Interior Design. I had even started to prepare my portfolio in the 4-5 months leading up to submission. Later, my college counselor and I came to realize that my artwork was actually communicating fashion design elements, rather than interior design – through my silhouette sketches, fabrics, and 3D art pieces. In light of this realization, I went on to pursue Fashion Design.

4/ Which fashion designer, Arab or international, inspired you, and why?

Jonathan Anderson. The world that he has created both in Loewe and his own brand, the utilitarianism in his collections, and the way he combines fashion with art so beautifully is very inspiring to me.

5/ What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?

Clothes produced by harming animals.

6/ What was your worst fashion faux-pas?

In my honest opinion I don’t think that we have experienced any fashion ‘faux-pas’ to date, and hopefully never will!

7/ If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any other designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

I would wear our color graded shalwar pants and a pink cozy knit sweater from the coming Resort ’23 collection.

8/ Who do you dream of dressing?

Harry Styles! He embodies that playful, eccentric, and hypnotic energy that we want to convey through our designs.

9/ What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?

Sustainability to me means to produce locally in order to support local suppliers, manufacturers, and resources. It means to ensure resources are not exhausted, and to produce timeless, quality, garments which can be worn for years to come.

10/ What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed?

We’re yet to start selling in the MENA area so I am unable to comment with any criticisms.

SANSIM ADALI: “THANKS TO FTA, WE WILL STRUGGLE LESS TO MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD IN A EUROCENTRIC FASHION WORLD.”

1/ What pushed you to send in your submission to this year’s FTA Prize? What do you expect from this experience?

Since I started following FTA in 2018, I’ve found its mission to shine a light on the region’s finest emerging talents very inspiring, especially as it provides them with as much support as it does recognition. The initiative is so valuable especially because talents from the MENA region can often struggle to make their voices heard in a Eurocentric fashion world. These are all reasons why I was excited to send in my submission this year. Whether I win the prize or not, after participating in this experience I expect to expand my global network of peers, designers, editors, agencies, stores and more.

2/ What was the first object related to fashion (a piece of clothing, jewelry, an accessory…) that dazzled you when you were a kid, and why?

I can instantly say that it was this iconic Paco Rabanne dress that belonged to my grandmother. I’d never laid my eyes on anything like it before, it didn’t resemble any other dress I’d ever seen. Rather than fabric, it consisted of metal discs joined with metal rings. I remember as a kid that the moment I saw and touched the dress, I felt a sense of excitement that was completely new to me. When I take new and different approaches to my design process, I feel as if I’m more in my comfort zone. I believe there is something about me seeing a design so ahead of its time at that age that always pushed me to think outside of the box. I guess I can say I owe it to my grandmother, and of course, to Paco Rabanne.

3/ What was the trigger that made you realize that you wanted to be a fashion designer and nothing else?

I first decided to be a designer in my teenage years when I learned how to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. At the time Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, Hussein Chalayan and other groundbreaking designers didn’t just make clothes, but created worlds, showing their own minds and hearts through their designs. Shows with strong concepts and intentions were often much more memorable to me than singular designs. I decided to be a designer the moment I realized the power it holds as a medium to tell a story and create your own world. Through my shows, I want the audience to experience not only great design, but also a new reality that’s the product of my mind and heart.

4/ Which fashion designer, Arab or international, inspired you, and why?

There are so many talented international designers I’m inspired by, but due to my Arab roots, I do feel a special connection to the culture. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had the urge to research and explore different cultures, including my own. The many common points between my Turkish upbringing and Arab culture, including approaches to forms of art such as architecture, paintings, miniatures, mosaics, pottery, glasswork and carpet weaving make me feel more connected to Arab designers. I distinctly remember how impressed I was when I heard Elie Saab speak at a conference about his journey in creating his brand. Unfortunately, living on precious land often comes with a chaotic lifestyle, but I’m happy that, like Elie Saab, that sense of chaos pushes me to chase and fulfill my dreams.

5/ What is the one thing you wish people would stop wearing?

Imagine a world in which no one wears anything that isn’t sustainably made. Would that not revolutionize fashion as we know it? Even though this surely sounds like a dream now, I do think it will become a necessity in the near future. I think humanity and its systems have developed enough to produce alternative solutions to such problems.

6/ What was your worst fashion faux-pas?

I think for a small brand like ours, social media is a great tool to avoid a major faux-pas. When big, popular brands involve themselves in such situations, we get to quickly learn from their behavior as well as the reaction they get from the public. As these topics are discussed publicly online, it becomes more and more clear what we have to be extra careful about. I don’t remember a specific faux-pas from my past, but I’m sure if it were to happen I could learn from it and see it in a positive light.

7/ If you were to choose one of your looks, or that of any other designer, to wear every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

If I’m never going to take it off, I’d want the look to be as functional as possible, just as much as I’d want it to be exciting in its design. Iris Van Herpen, who I believe is a genius of the possible future, successfully combines the two ideas, so I’d love to be wearing one of her designs. I can’t see myself wanting to wear anything else forever.

8/ Who do you dream of dressing?

Grimes and Björk.

9/ What does the word “sustainability” mean to you?

Sustainability for me is a living idea, an idea that needs to be incorporated into your everyday activities. Once you truly realize that the world needs your help, it is impossible to be indifferent. In my everyday life, the way I incorporate it is by consuming smart, caring a lot, feeling empathy and being able to look at life from many different perspectives. In my work, I try to bring together a non-toxic production cycle and long lasting and transformable garments, which allows our clients to wear our designs in many different ways year after year. As Sudietuz, we have been digitally transforming since 2018, we have been creating each design in 3D first, which allows us to see our collection before manufacturing it. Those 3D garments are available for purchase as NFTs. Therefore, whoever is buying our dresses can try them in AR and decide if they really need or want them.

10/ What is something that makes you uncomfortable in the MENA fashion industry and that you would like to see changed?

It’s clear to me that there is great interest in fashion in this region. This interest can unfortunately easily turn into overconsumption, which we all need to be careful about now more than ever. Therefore, I think the consumer needs to consume less, and consume more meaningfully. While doing so, they should also reconsider their everyday actions; we have reached a point where everyone needs to do their part by recycling and repurposing to minimize waste. Of course, on the brands’ and designers’ side, there are other elements to take into consideration. Do you pay your workers fairly? Do you keep track of every single phase of your production and are you aware of what goes on, what resources are used throughout? Do you make sure to use eco-friendly, upcycled, long-lasting materials? In this day and age, designers must do their absolute best to work towards being able to answer each of these questions with a confident “yes”.