A Chat With Özgü Yalçin, General Manager at Egedeniz Textile

We've worked with factory partner Egedeniz Textile – the first certified organic textile company of Turkey – for over 20 years. We're proud of this longstanding relationship and all of the good that Egedeniz does for people and planet: They’ve been long standing leaders within Textile Exchange, and have progressive initiatives regarding solar energy, job training for women trying to get into the workforce, and they plant 1,000 trees annually to offset their carbon emissions.

Özgü Yalçin is Egedeniz's General Manager, a champion of sustainability, super mom, volleyball player, and more. On a recent trip to Turkey, we chatted with her about her time with Egedeniz, our longstanding partnership, and what keeps her motivated.  

Ozgu talking with our Sr Director of Product at our factory

Our VP of Supply Chain Joanna with Özgü at a recent visit to Egedeniz in Turkey

Toad&Co: Tell us about your journey at Egedeniz. When did you start, and how has your role evolved over the years? 

ÖzgüWhile I was studying at the Department of Textile Engineering at Ege University, I received an offer to take part as a volunteer student in the conference to be held in Izmir by an organization, which was then called Organic Exchange and now is Textile Exchange. Egedeniz Textile was also one of the main sponsor companies of the conference. After graduating, I was not satisfied while working for another company for a short time, therefore I applied to work as a customer representative in the marketing and sales unit at Egedeniz. Since they knew me well through the organization, they immediately offered me a job and this is how my 17-year adventure began. During this process, I worked as customer representative, marketing and sales manager, and associate general manager. Since the beginning of 2023 I have been working as General Manager.

Toad: Congratulations on your recent promotion! From working with you for so many years, we can truly say it's very well deserved. Tell us a bit more about Egedeniz - a sustainability leader in many ways, from being the first certified organic textile company in Turkey to planting 1,000 trees annually and running your main building on solar energy. Why has sustainability been important to you all since day one and how do you ensure it continues to stay at the forefront? 

ÖzgüAs we celebrate our 30th anniversary this year, the company's vision since the day it was first established has been to be a leading organization in the field of sustainable textiles. We always act with this awareness while carrying out our activities. We lead with our mission of providing happy employees, happy customers, happy suppliers, and a service that causes the least harm to the environment and creates value for the society. We organize an Egedeniz CSR days event every year, which we first started in 2017, in order to raise awareness of both our employees and customers.

Toad: On the note of corporate social responsibility, what changes have we seen in the marketplace for sustainable fibers, and what’s next in sustainability innovation? 

Özgü: Especially with the emergence of the pandemic, sustainability has become an essential issue for both brands and manufacturers. We are Turkey's first organic certified textile company. While we continue the organic cotton projects we are already carrying out, we also continue to invest in other natural fibers. Since we care about the transparency of our entire supply chain, we work on growing and processing hemp fiber in Turkey, which has started to stand out in the global market. We believe that the increase in interest in hemp will continue in the coming years and that it will have a significant share among sustainable fibers.

Toad: Speaking of innovation, we’re really excited to be partnering with you on organic cotton in conversion. Can you tell us more about that?

Özgü: Unfortunately, organic cotton production in the world is still around 1%. We started this journey in 1993 as Turkey’s first organic textile company but it is not enough today. That’s why we have initiated efforts to first switch new fields from conventional to organic production. We are very happy that Toad&Co is a supporter of our organic cotton in conversion project from the beginning. As a result of these programs, we aim to ensure that more organic cotton is grown in the future.

A group of women smiling at Egedeniz factory

Left to right: Toad&Co's Joanna, Egedeniz's Yağmur, Deniz, and Özgü

Toad: Your good doing at Egedeniz goes well beyond sustainability. You also have some incredibly social initiatives like the Living Wage Project. Can you tell us a bit more about those? 

Özgü: We have started making living wage payments in addition to current salaries since July 2017 with the support of our customer Mini Rodini. This is a significant effort to improve the standard of living for our employees and an important step towards reaching a living wage. We are deeply committed to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and strive to make a positive impact on the world around us. CSR is not just a concept; it is an integral part of who we are. By aligning our actions with the United Nations goals and implementing responsible practices, we aim to create a better future for all.

Toad: What else does Egedeniz do to ensure they’re keeping employees happy?  

Özgü: As a company that has undertaken the mission of happy employees, our primary duty is to listen to the voices of each of our employees. We have an independently elected workers' representation committee. We regularly listen to their suggestions and complaints and make improvements.

Toad: That's great, we agree, you can't have success without happy employees! It's shared values like these that have helped keep us such strong partners for so many years. Do you have a favorite memory of working with Toad&Co over the years?

Özgü: I made my first trip abroad to Toad&Co. In this process, which was a very new experience for me, it was an incredible life lesson to see a brand that puts the happiness of its employees before commercial values. Since I started to rise to a manager position, I have made it my mission to reflect these values ​​to our own employees as much as I can.

Toad: What would you say is the greatest innovation we’ve collaborated on together?

Özgü: Being always ahead of the market in the fabric developments that we make together provides a great advantage for both parties. Toad&Co's exclusive Samba fabric, which we developed 17 years ago, is still a market leader and attracts great attention.

Toad: We agree! Our customers love their Samba styles. What are some of the biggest challenges Egedeniz faces in today’s changing world?

Özgü: In the changing global world, it becomes more difficult to offer competitive prices every day. Egedeniz, which has been a follower of sustainable development goals from the very beginning, is not only a manufacturer but also an organization that makes a difference for people and the environment with its work. We may have to emphasize that the unit prices we give are not only the price of the product but also a part of its values.

Toad: That's a great point, and we're finding that customers are more and more interested in price transparency these days, too. On a more personal note – when you’re not leading the charge as Egedeniz’s GM, what do your off hours look like? 

Özgü: I try to balance the time I have when I'm not working as time for my family and myself as much as possible. We have really good weather here in Izmir (similar to California weather) like a long summer. I travel together with family to the summer places close to Izmir during weekends. I also always try to keep being active in the center of my personal life. I have been playing volleyball for many years. I also continue to run regularly early in the morning hours. I started taking tennis lessons 1 year ago. I think staying active has a positive effect on my busy and stressful work life.

Toad: We also hear you’re a supermom! How do you balance your career and family life? 

Özgü: I am very happy to be called as a supermom. 😊 I have an 8-year-old son named Cinar. I work flexible hours where I can organize my weekly schedule myself. Since I travel a lot for work, I try to make sure that the time I spend with Cinar is of good quality. My husband Dogukan's help is incredibly big, especially when I travel. I am grateful for all his support from the beginning.

Toad: If you could go back and have a conversation with Ozgu in her early Egedeniz days, what advice would you give yourself?

Özgü: Sometimes I find myself asking the same question. There were times when I wanted to change for a different career plan. But when I look back, I'm grateful for what I've done so far. I am at the highest point I can reach in the company I work for. But this is just the beginning of what I will do!

Toad: Who is the most influential or admirable woman in your life?

Özgü: The first person that comes to my mind is of course my mother. She is someone who focuses on success in everything she does, works hard for this and tries to do her best despite all the difficulties. I always try to follow in her footsteps. If I had to name a second person, I would say Kerri McKenzie, whom we met years ago during the Textile Exchange Conference. She is my soul sister on the other side of the world. Even though we don't come together very often, I know that she is always just a phone call away. While she always works with passion to achieve success in everything she does, she also never hesitates to pass all her experience to those around her.