The Women In Denim is Rivet’s check-in with women working in the global denim sector. The weekly column, in partnership with The Women In Denim industry group, shines a spotlight on today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. In this Q&A, Ebru Ozaydin, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Artistic Milliners, discusses how women can help one another to balance gender roles in the denim industry.
Ebru Ozaydin, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Artistic Milliners
When and where did you begin your career in denim?
I started as a product development engineer at the denim mill Orta Anadolu in 1998 and then I have built my career working at diverse roles: fabric and garment sales, after-sales and customer retention, CRM, technical marketing, communications and PR and corporate sustainability.
What is the most rewarding part of your current job?
Working with a diverse team in a multi-cultural environment, learning to take a more holistic approach for problem-solving, further educating myself on sustainable technologies both in fabric and garment washing and meeting inspirational people and collaborating with them.
Some people describe denim as a boys’ club. Do you agree or disagree?
Overall, it’s the fashion industry’s historical problem. Research show that only 12.5 percent of apparel and retail apparel companies are led by women holding C-suite positions, and 26 percent of board members are women. Obviously, it is nothing too different in our industry, which is largely run by men and has a traditionally masculine style of leadership.
There are of course exceptions, but very few to name. I don’t think there is an in-depth analysis for the denim industry but as far as I know, apart from the generation who has taken over family businesses and female-founded consulting and marketing/PR agencies, women are underrepresented at the executive level at corporate companies.
Women are usually at mid-level roles, bringing enormous value to their organizations but the recognition is extremely poor. We’ve been seeing more executive roles at the brand level and female founders who built very successful brands worldwide but the Fortune 500 still has only 37 women CEOs.
I am wondering if business owners or board members are really aware of the lack of women at leadership level… It is far beyond giving a title or a rank, but more about encouraging women to have power in decision-making process.
Speaking specifically, for an industry where the women make most of the purchasing decision and have a deep influence (family, kids), it is sometimes surprising to see male-dominated product or sales teams decide what women will wear.
Why are we not seeing more female innovators and women denim heads at the forefront? Why is their talent or hard work are not recognized and rewarded? Why is it that ‘men in position of power’ are taking credit for the work women have successfully achieved?
In denim, what qualities do you think women bring to the table?
Women leaders are more successful at establishing relationships, forming coalitions, building networks and collaborating. Their organizational and problem-solving skills can help to better implement strategies, set goals and track the results. They are multi-taskers and have the ability to handle multiple projects with good teamwork management.
Have you had a mentor in your career?
Yes, I was so lucky to meet, learn and work with very knowledgeable people in my career journey, and I am still a perpetual student. However, there is one single name who truly changed my life when I was a very young and unexperienced engineer. Mr. Mehmet Ali Babaoglu, the ex-CEO of Orta Anadolu, and a legend. He assigned me advanced projects when I was fresh out of school, helped me to expand my knowledge and upskill to progress my career.
What can women do to help other women in the denim industry?
Women can help young, inexperienced or discouraged colleagues who seek out informal advice and access career opportunities and by mentoring them to navigate the challenges they’ll face both as women and as leaders. Furthermore, [we can create an environment] by collaborating with women denim veterans who spent years in this industry.
What advice would you give to a woman starting a career in the denim industry?
For a young colleague who would start working in denim, she needs to have constant enthusiasm and true passion. Blue bloods are a tribe of high-profile experts who have broad experience; they are artists, scientists, multi-talented professionals—or ‘denim nerds’ as I call them. Therefore, you have to be ready to work hard. I would humbly suggest gaining multi-disciplinary skills to have a strong foundation of art and science; educate yourself about sustainability and technology. I myself studied dramaturgy, acting, and history of art, apart from my engineering and marketing education, which has helped me a lot at different roles.
Who is your denim style icon, and why?
Marilyn Monroe. Not only because of her charismatic look in her jeans but her legacy more than just the curves. She was a talented actor, a powerful woman. Her appearance in the fight scene in the film “Clash by Night” is epic.
What should be the denim industry’s top priority now?
Collaborate to innovate! It’s not the time to be pessimistic; we cannot give up. We have to work harder, exchange our knowledge and experience in the supply chain.
What makes you most optimistic?
An increased awareness about the ultimate need for circularity, pushing our boundaries to innovate on new sustainable technologies, the possibility of integrating AI/VR/AR to our business and the seamless communication with more educated consumers who is now silently becoming our partner in innovation.
As a final note, the increasing awareness about diversity and inclusion; the love and respect for uniqueness.