Sahika Yörükoglu Askiner
This month's magazine features Sahika Yörükoglu Askiner. We find Sahika, her work and the initiatives she takes and participates in to support Turkish women very inspiring.
Sahika was born and raised in Tire in Turkey where she grew up with her parents and siblings. The men of the family are entrepreneurs and have been running businesses in Turkey for several years. Therefore, Sahika believes that becoming an entrepreneur is a natural part of her DNA.
Sahika studied Business Administration at the university in Izmir. After completing her studies, she had the opportunity to work in her father’s business, but she would rather go her own way and build her own career. She worked at a large supplier and exporter of textiles for a couple of years before she started her own agency, LIBRA. Here, she worked as the Turkish agent for different companies helping them manage their clients and collections.
The following year, Sahika was contacted by a friend who wanted to start a supply and manufacturing company. The friend was to be responsible for machines and manufacturing while Sahika would be in charge of marketing. However, the two women had no money to invest in the company. Consequently, Sahika took out a loan and bought 10 sewing machines second hand in order to start up production. And that was the start of Özsimge.
Though the start-up phase presented lots of challenges Sahika never asked her father or others for financial support. The only assistance she asked of her father was to be allowed to rent the top floor of one of the buildings he owned. Sahika’s father offered to help her out financially, but she did not want to accept the money.
“Even though I didn’t borrow money from my father I was never in doubt that I had his support and that he would help me if something went wrong.”
After two years, Sahika's business partner left Özsimge, making it difficult for her to make ends meet. Sahika then invested her own money in Özsimge while continuing to work as an agent for LIBRA. She
now ran to businesses single-handed. She worked for LIBRA during the day and for Özsimge in the evening, sometimes until the early hours of the morning. She only stopped home to sleep and shower.
Özsimge grew in size and started to export to other countries. Sahika's husband left his job to work for Özsimge's finance department as she was no longer able to manage everything on her own. She describes her husband as her personal coach who always supported her. In 2022, Özsimge celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Breaking with tradition
Sahika couldn’t imagine a better life than the one she has created for herself, and she enjoys being her own boss.
“I’ve never been a traditional Turkish woman who wanted a normal and easy-going life with children, family and so on. I like challenges, they make me happy and motivate me, and therefore I've chosen a life filled with challenges.”
“I could have had an easy and comfortable life living off the family money, but I wasn’t interested in that. I’ve created a wonderful life for myself, and I’m proud of that. If I had spent other people’s money, even if it was my family’s, I would have felt so guilty about it if everything had failed.”
Sahika feels lucky to be a female entrepreneur in Izmir, which is one of the most modern cities in Turkey. Izmir is also known as The City of Amazons (as in the female warriors). Sahika met no resistance or obstacles as a businesswoman, neither in her professional life nor her social life.
The manufacture of textiles is a business generally dominated by women. Sahika used her position as a female manager to motivate her female employees and to take an interest in their families and their social life. In 2008, Sahika and two of her friends founded Aegean Businesswoman Association, the first organisation of its kind in Izmir. Together they started different initiatives and projects in order to support female entrepreneurs in the region. One of the landmark projects involved donating sewing machines, dead stock and equipment to a centre for women who have escaped from violence or poverty. The women learned to sew fabric dolls which were sold in shops, the proceeds going to the women at the centre and to female students.
Currently, Sahika works as project director for two Erasmus projects. One of the projects aims to bring more women into the workforce. The purpose of the other project is to educate women about entrepreneurship, how to start their own business and how to develop their skills. Furthermore, Turkish banks offer special financial support to female start-ups, and various government departments also provide resources. Sahika finds that many people are unaware of these opportunities, so she wants to help draw attention to them.
To round off, Sahika says that she personally believes that there is great potential in Turkey for female entrepreneurs because many young women are ambitious. She will continue her work supporting Turkish women and their potential and creating international networks where members can collaborate and share their experiences.