Reviving antique tradition
I had the opportunity to meet the female president of the Hatay Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association, Gülay Gül, on my recent trip to Antakya, and listen to her interesting story.
Gül, who is also the head of the TOBB Hatay Female Entrepreneurs board, entered the business world with “zero capital” after graduating from university at the end of the 1990s when she started both importing and exporting food items. “At one time, my rice imports from Egypt met the demand of our entire Mediterranean region,” she said.
One day, on a business trip to France, she was startled to see that daphne soap, produced in Antakya since ancient times, was being sold under the name, “Aleppo soap.”
“Daphne oil was sent to Aleppo from Antakya. Then soap was made there to be exported to Europe. In other words, Syria was carrying a culture to Europe, one that was present here continuously from antique times to the Ottomans. Our soap was snatched by our neighbor.”
Thus Gül entered into a business with which she was not familiar to begin production of the soap. She bought a 210-year-old building, one of the few soap production facilities that survived out of the former 16.
With 2 million Turkish Liras in investment, she renewed the soap facility and launched research and development projects. After two years of R&D studies, she entered the market with the brand Verdaa.
After daphne soap, she then added shampoo and face and body care oils to the product list.
“I have caused the revival of the daphne soap and daphne oil sector in Antalya and also the increase in awareness of this ancestral profession. I am quite challenging in this aspect; I cannot be humble,” she said, laughing.
With the launch of Verdaa, daphne soap production in Antakya was able to reach certain international standards. Exports of various products made of daphne oil to Europe and the Middle East have steadily increased. Meanwhile, Gül sent 20 female workers from the soap factory to Spain, Italy and France for cosmetic training through a European Union fund.
She explained that the potential for daphne was huge. Furthermore, it was possible to meet 80 percent of world demand for the oil and leaf from this region.
Gül’s current target is to patent Antakya Daphne Soap.
A less pleasant side of this story is unfortunately related to the Syrian crisis, which has shaken the daphne sector bitterly just as it has impacted all sectors in Hatay. Gül, who was sending the Veraa brand to Gulf countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman through Syria, has been experiencing difficulty in exporting since the Cilvegözü border gate was closed last July.
“When tourism in Antakya decreased, our sales also went down 70 percent,” Gül said. She will be visiting France, Holland and Germany in coming weeks in search of alternative markets.