At a time when restaurants are increasingly aware of their ingredients’ provenance and their producers’ wellbeing, it sometimes seems that fashion is lagging behind. But the Nef Vakfı (Foundation), whose social and educational projects have brought relief to thousands in need, is leading the way with its socially conscious brand Hay Atölye.

The brand’s philosophy follows the famous saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” In Hay Atölye’s case the “fish” are clutch bags, notebooks, wallets, decorative items, and office accessories, handmade by people in desperate need. In particular, Hay Atölye selects disadvantaged women with three or more children and no husband present, as their ability to work outside the home is severely limited. Hay Atölye offers these women training, income, and ultimately a helping hand back into wider society.

Teach her how to sew and read

Nef Foundation Chairwoman Emine Timur told The Guide Istanbul, “What differentiates us from other projects is that these aren’t bored women sitting at home. They aren’t women who go to the municipality or somewhere in the neighborhood and say, ‘I feel like doing some knitting.’ These women’s income levels were as low as bread and water. They had no training in sewing. And they were really alone. But this isn’t a charity sale, it’s a sustainable social brand, with long-term goals.”

Hay Atölye products are all made in the women’s homes, so their designs emphasizes hand sewing. Rather than seeing this as a limitation, the designers have turned it into a trademark of the brand by choosing colorful threads that stand out against leather, felt, and fabric.

A story of a transformation

Speaking of the women’s training, Timur says, “The time that it takes for them to learn varies according to the women and their education levels. Many of them can’t read or write. Because we use measurements in the work, some of the women have to be educated from zero.” So, while training these women toward a practical goal, Hay Atölye also provides them with basic literacy skills that can improve their everyday lives.

Such skills and experiences can have a knock-on effect for the women, opening opportunities that had otherwise seemed unreachable. “This is the story of a transformation. Looking at these women’s lives, you can see clearly that they become happier when they start to produce. And this affects their children from birth. Seeing a productive mother at home has a positive effect on the next generation,” Timur says. “It’s very important not to stop wanting. Even if you only want to provide for your own needs, you’ve started earning money. Or, against the threat of your children being taken into care, you can show the state that you’re working and bringing income into the home. The most important thing is that you feel stronger among the people around you.”

Nef Foundation Chairwoman Emine Timur

Buy a product with stories

And Timur stresses that these benefits are not only for the producers, but also for the buyers. Every Hay Atölye product has a label that explains the product’s story and gives the name of the woman who made it. “You experience an awakening when you buy a Hay product and read this story. You say, I’m part of something. I’ve taken part in a service,” she says. With products available at hayatolye.org, Mudo, and GS Store, as well as those coming soon to Hepsiburada.com, Morhipo.com, and Marks&Spencer, this enterprise is gaining the momentum needed to make a real difference.

Where to find Hay Atölye products

With items available at hayatolye.org, Mudo, and GS Store, as well as those coming soon to Hepsiburada.com, Morhipo.com, and Marks&Spencer, this enterprise is gaining the momentum needed to make a real difference.