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Denim Minds Under 30: Ilayda Toprak

Like any business that has been around for more than a century, the jeanswear industry has its legends. It is also continuously reinventing itself and welcoming more opportunities for innovation—and oftentimes, it takes a fresh perspective to make real change. Rivet’s Denim Minds Under 30 column shines a spotlight on young professionals committed to pushing the denim industry forward, paying special mind to the planet and its people.

In this Q&A, Ilayda Toprak, a denim designer at Turkish denim manufacturer Realkom, talks about how the industry has changed as a result of the pandemic, and how younger generations are setting it up for a successful future.

Describe your current job. 

IT: At Realkom, I prepare new collections that follow current trends and customers’ demands. I make fabric and wash range selections and send prepared samples to laundry. I then make a final selection from the samples and send them to customers.

What drew you to the denim industry?

IT: My path crossed with denim by chance. I really didn’t have much of an idea about denim when I started, but then I realized that the industry was an innovative and magical world. The laundry process was the part that surprised me the most and made me connect to this work with even more enthusiasm. I became more involved with denim with the support and self confidence that my managers gave me.

What is your first denim memory?

IT: In high school, I was working on a project that involved pant design and manufacturing, and I chose to design a denim pant.

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Since working in denim, has anything surprised you about the denim industry?

IT: When I graduated from college and started to work in denim, I was very surprised that the dark raw fabrics became very different light shades when they were washed. Also, the machines that are used in the laundry process surprised me a lot.

What are your short- and long-term goals for the industry?

IT: As the world moves so fast, I always aim to be an innovative and technology-friendly designer. I want to be one of the first to use the greatest new innovations and produce smart, sustainable products. I want to serve my company, my country and the world by producing these eco-friendly designs. As for my long-term goals, I would like to collaborate with global brands and have a strong reputation in the denim industry.

Which brands or supply chain partners do you look up to, and why?

 IT: Diesel, Balmain, Replay, G-Star Raw, Dsquared2, AG and J Brand are very inspiring to me because these brands are really close to our customer profile. I always analyze Diesel’s and Balmain’s new fit and pattern details, and the wash, accessories and fabric details of Replay, Dsquared2 and G-Star Raw. Also, I am closely following the wash details of J Brand and AG.

What do you think the denim industry will learn from the pandemic?

IT: There will be new fabric, styles and designing requirements for sure. Since the pandemic started, we all have seen a huge demand for antibacterial and environmentally safe jeans. We’ve also witnessed the importance of e-commerce. I believe from now on there will be major investments in technology and online businesses.

When I look from the designer side, it is very difficult for us to select fabrics from suppliers during online meetings. We got used to touching and feeling denim’s [qualities and performance attributes]. But we learned from the pandemic that even without traveling, we are able to carry on our business and find synergy with brands and all of our fabric suppliers. It taught us that everybody should support each other in this industry and collaborate to minimize difficulties.

What advice do you have for other young people in the industry?

IT: Work hard and don’t give up when faced with difficulties. Stay where you’re happiest and never lose your energy.

What will be the biggest impact that young people will have on the denim industry in the future?

IT: The younger generations are aware of the current pollution and climate change crises, so we are able to create more sustainable jeans and wiser design techniques. We are fully focused on causing the least impact on the environment while designing, which will result in a brighter future for the denim industry on the production level.