Gaziantep, a traditional Turkish city near the Syrian border, might seem an unlikely base for a wildly successful contemporary fashion brand. But this captivating place (also the world’s pistachio capital) has always been an important commercial center. It was on the historic 4,000 mile Silk Road, the main trade route that linked the Western world with Asia. Today, Gaziantep is home to Kutnia, a unique lifestyle brand that creates gorgeous womenswear and homewares. Gaziantep-born founder Jülide Konukoğlu wanted to preserve the dying artisanal weaving method that produces Kutnu, the prized silk and cotton fabric unique to Gaziantep. By cleverly adapting this traditional fabric for modern uses, the Kutnia brand has become a roaring success.
Launched in 2018, with a handful of employees and a small production workshop, Kutnia has achieved remarkable growth in a short period of time. The company now has over 100 employees and has experienced a phenomenal 70% growth in sales. The brand has 11 stores, including two opening this April in the resort town of Bodrum and is available online globally through their own and partner websites, including in the UK and US. The weavers of the Kutnu fabric have always been and still are men, as are the young apprentices but Kutnia’s senior team and all the designers are Turkish women, an encouraging fact in a country that has become increasingly conservative under President Tayyip Erdogan.
The heritage artisanal woven fabric of Gaziantep was once known as “royal fabric” as it was prized by the Ottoman Court and dates back to the 16th-century. It was once a thriving trade with thousands of hand looms producing Kutnu fabric. Woven on hand looms and dyed using a highly specialist process, the fabric had almost died out when Kutnia brought it back from the brink five years ago. Typical Kutnu fabric is striped, made up of a vertical silk warp and horizontal cotton weft. The new brand was created to use sustainable production techniques, with an emphasis on timeless luxury, rather than the fast fashion Turkey is sometimes associated with. Producing the hand-woven and dyed fabrics for the Kutnia brand is highly specialist and despite some modernisation in the Kutnia factory, still very labor intensive. Each weaver produces only 14 meters of Kutnu fabric each day. And it takes an apprentice an average of six months to learn just one of the many tasks involved in the weaving process.
Kutnia is becoming instantly recognisable in the same way Scotland’s Harris Tweed or Italy’s Missoni are rooted in a particular fabric and highly prized for quality. The aim is to preserve, promote and secure the future of Kutnu as an internationally important fabric, complete with its distinctive appearance and artisanal method of weaving and production. Each Kutnia fabric is woven by Kutnu masters in Gaziantep and bears its master’s signature.
Kutnia aims to be both sophisticated and fun, with a mix of joyful colors. The brand’s ethos combines three elements: bringing the past into the present, connecting east and west and creating a meaningful social and sustainability project. The two female designers, Gunseli Turkay and Selen Sahin, have worked with Kutnu experts to develop an improved and sustainable Kutnu fabric that washes well and is long-lasting. The brand produces two seasonal collections each year, including ready to wear collections for women, textiles for the home and a new Marine (resort) line launched in 2021. Key pieces include gorgeous silk blouses and dresses and skirts and trousers that feature the Kutnu silk and cotton striped fabric.
The designers take inspiration from vibrant Gaziantep with its wide range of crafts found in the ancient bazar, including enamel, textiles, leather and metal work. Also important from a design perspective is Gaziantep’s Zeugma Museum, the world’s largest mosaic museum which houses thousands of Roman mosaics. Each season there is a “Zeugma” collection with motifs and designs taken from the mosaics.
Kutnia is a remarkable Turkish company, a tremendous commercial success and instrumental in saving the ancient fabric Kutnu. The brand appears to be achieving its goal of becoming well known in Turkey, it is gaining fans in western Europe and no doubt has its eye on the Asian and North American markets in the not too distant future.