Shopping in Istanbul: Italian fashion for Russian tourists

In the last blog post I briefly mentioned about my travel to Istanbul and talked about one potentially funky brand I (kind of) discovered.You can read a more detailed story about my family's travel to Istanbul here. Among others, it also describes our experiences of doing shopping there.

Apart from the Grand Bazaar and Arasta Bazaar, where you can find souvenirs, carpets, spices and other typical stuff (which I bought very little of due to lots of hassling from the sellers and simply because there are many similar items on sale in Turkish districts of Brussels -- at more normal prices), there was one quarter of Istanbul, which left me somewhat puzzled.

img_3859This district is situated to the South of Ordu Caddesi near the Istanbul University, and consists of shops and hotels that accommodate mostly Russian tourists, or so it seemed. Interestingly, most shops had at least one employee able to speak Russian. I was amused that I was always addressed by these people in Russian immediately upon entering shops -- my Slavic features must give away my Rusianness right away!

Here are some of the things I found worth mentioning on my blog:

  • Most of the stores did not sell single items. They looked like regular stores though, there was rarely any close resemblance to warehouses, apart from some exceptions. Some of them had "wholesale" and "optom" (in Russian) written near the entrance, but the majority were unmarked, and we found out that we couldn't buy single items only upon entering the store. Who buys there? Russian shoppers who come to get some stuff for their boutiques?
  • Many shops had Italian-sounding names. "Italiano", "Moda italiana" and similar names were very frequent. It was actually a contrast to my shopping experience in Thailand a couple of years ago, where every shop was openly labelled as being an "Armani", or, more rarely, "Versace". In Istanbul, reference to the Italian style was more subtle.  Some of these stores sold very funky-looking items with "D&G" and "Versace" labels, at very attractive prices. Other items were simply "Italian-looking", with no fake labels attached to them. In most of the cases, shop assistants simply explained that all of the clothes were produced locally, following "Italian fashion principles." Knowing how much Russians have always been fascinated by Italian fashion in particular, I believe these shops cater exactly to the Russians.
  • Although the overall quality was so-so, I found one shop where the stuff looked simply fantastic. Whereas most of the "Italian" stores did not bear the names of the existing Italian brands, this one was actually called Roccobarocco. I know this brand quite well, and love their designs. I also visited a Roccobarocco store on my recent trip to Rome, and was curious to check one out in Istanbul. I was, however, not sure it was real stuff. I have to say that the Istanbul store was designed in the similar way as the Rome one, the logo looked authentic, all of the items seemed to be of great quality, and were definitely Roccobarocco-looking. Prices were not as low as everywhere else in the district, but they were definitely lower than those in Rome. All of the staff in the shop were Russians and Ukrainians. I confessed that I knew the brand very well, and tried to ask what was the story behind the Turkish Roccobarocco shop. If the brand was real, how could they explain the low prices? They told me they had a license to produce these items in Turkey, and were "almost" a Turkish subsidiary of Roccobarocco.

What's authentic and what's not? How to unravel the mystery of Istanbul's "Russian" shopping district? Post a comment!

Turkish fashion in a tiny box

A couple of weeks ago I came back from my trip to Istanbul. I spent a week of great vacation there, exploring this wonderful city and its historical tbox1monuments. Apart from that, I (of course!) had to check the local brands, preferably funky and innovative ones. Prior to going to Turkey, I'd asked my friends, as well as posted questions on various social networks (notably asmallworld and LinkedIn), asking to suggest some funky Turkish brands for me to check out. Believe it or not, pretty much all answers had to do with something called T-box.

Having learned that T-box's main point of differentiation is packaging, or, rather, its size (you can buy your T-shirt wrapped in a tiny bag size of a matchbox), and having the impression that I'd certainly bump into a T-box shop somewhere in the city, I didn't even bother to note down any exact addresses. It turned out though that it wasn't easily findable, and it took me about 4 days before I bumped into it on the main shopping street of Istanbul. Unfortunately, the shop was closed -- on a Tuesday afternoon -- because at that time it served as a venue for some PR event of sorts. So, i didn't get to have a close look at those tiny packages.

And it's a pity. Because T-box, launched in 2003 in Turkey, has quickly expanded abroad, and currently has about 5000 stores on 4 continents. The whole concept is based on squeezing normal size clothes into abnormally tiny boxes, cone-shaped packages and purses. Apparently, it's the only Turkish brand which never has to lower its prices during sales seasons.

Do you know any other business idea based almost entirely on innovative packaging? Post a comment!