This is an age of prejudices more than anything else. The age of the internet, open borders and cheap flights tickets should have ended it. But our prejudices keep growing as the world gets smaller. We see it grow not only in our country, but in the world as well. In every country, as technology shifts the economic paradigms, we see more and more people with strong prejudices. It was one of the issues that we discussed in our meeting with Mehmet Emin Okur, the board president and founder of sefamerve.com. He and his sister, Oya Okur Erciyeş, founded it in 2012. It is a website that sells clothes for pious Muslim women. He said that throughout his life he faced prejudices coming from everywhere. He said that because he is a graduate of an İmam Hatip (religious) high school, people were reluctant to take him seriously about e-commerce, thinking that an İmam Hatip graduate would not understand the complex phenomenon. However, he gained unparalleled success with sefamerve.com. Since its establishment in 2012, it is the only e-commerce site that generated profits five years in a row. It has 6.5 million registered users and sells products to 70 countries. Red Herring announced that sefamerve.com was one of the top 100 startups in the world in 2013. They also have a seat at Ecommerce Europe, which represents more than 75,000 companies selling goods and services online to consumers in Europe. Their IT and logistics infrastructure is on par with ecommerce giants. They even have artificial intelligence developers in their team.
Okur says sefamerve.com will be the leader in e-commerce sites in modest fashion in the world. He is confident that neither Amazon.com nor Alibaba.com will be able to achieve what they potentially can. He said there is a reason why there is no global giant when it comes to Muslim fashion wear, yet. It has to originate from a Muslim country, he believes, as it is not only about fashion but also about understanding the way religious women live and experience things. He underlines that without that first-hand experience, you cannot innovate and create new products that will enable and empower Muslim women.
To tell you the truth I was also a bit prejudiced against Okur in the sense that what he is doing is not serving the best interests of our country. A part of my brain suggested that what he is doing is encouraging more women to wear the hijab, thus increasing the number of women covering up. They are the company who initiated the Muslim swimwear and Muslim sports clothes for women. So when I saw the increasing number of women in the beaches wearing the Muslim swimwear, I was sad, because I thought those women could not soak up the sun and could not really experience what a beach is all about.
However, when you think just for a second, you do realize a few things. First of all, it is not anyone’s business what a woman can wear or not. It is totally only up to them. Secondly, by encouraging Muslim women to go out, they are empowering them, not the other way around, because for devoted Muslims the alternative of not swimming with your family in Muslim swimwear is not wearing a bikini, but to sit in the beach alone. Similarly, the alternative of playing soccer in Muslim sportswear for those ladies is not wearing shorts, but not to play at all. That’s why, he said, we experience prejudice from some of the Muslims as well, for empowering women.
Even though the success of sefamerve.com is great, Okur doesn’t want to be known only for that. He wants the world to know him as an entrepreneur as he invests in different companies all over the world.
One of his investments seemed really interesting and groundbreaking to me. It is a Finnish company called Whim, owned by Maas. They claim that as the world’s first MaaS (Mobility as a Service) operator, MaaS Global will revolutionize the way we move. Okur said the time of owning a car is coming to an end, as owning a car doesn’t make much sense anymore for most people. According to their website, Whim is a more affordable alternative for car ownership without all the hassles. Every journey is covered – whether it’s a taxi, public transport, a car service or a bike share. Simply, pay as you go or travel even smarter with a monthly plan. I will write more about Maas and Whim in the coming weeks as Toyata and Karsan are also partners of this firm. It is a story to tell about Turkish automotive industry.
He spoke about ways in which he had to overcome the prejudice of him being a Turkish investor trying to secure a deal in Finland. I cannot speak about all the details, but what I can say is that his patience and persistence is amazing.
I believe that it is people like Okur who will change the world in the age of prejudices, building bridges in all directions, thinking globally, not locally.