Real talk, Raw talk: Behind the Scenes of Istanbul’s Streetwear Scene with Freedom of Space

By  | 

Walking through the tight-knit streets of Istanbul’s Nişantaşı district, you are inundated with boutiques, independent labels, and couture houses. Bustling cafes transition seamlessly into a wedding dress design house. Tucked off the main roads, you can find a brightly-lit store with a red neon sign and a completely glass facade.
This magical store is called The Space, an experiential concept store that is the main retail front of the label Freedom of Space, an Istanbul streetwear brand founded in 2018. From matching sweatsuits to eclectic t-shirt prints to a wall of sneakers and a pink infinity mirror room, the store has everything the next generation of Turkish youth are looking for.
Freedom of Space has a truly inspiring vision. All of their collections are genderless, they are pushing to become zero-waste, and they are staying grounded in their loyal support network in the Istanbul creative community. They strive to promote individuality and the power of the self, not compromising on their mission or the quality of their pieces.
I had the lucky opportunity of visiting Freedom of Space and The Space when I was in Istanbul a few weeks ago and spoke with two members of the Freedom of Space team about their visions, the store, what it means to be Turkish designers, now and in the future.

Words & pictures / Ethan Dincer

At the Istanbul Freedom of Space store

Walk me through your latest drop and collection and some of the inspirations behind it.

FoS: For us, inspiration comes from everywhere. For the latest drop, we drew inspiration from life after the pandemic, a life that, for us, meant higher standards. That’s why we have prints such as “Ain’t No Moutain High Enough,” it kind of explains the brand and where it’s at now.
During the pandemic there was a huge interest in Freedom of Space because our clothing is easy to wear. This latest drop is a celebration of our success but in a moderate way, in our way. For the first time, we made puffer jackets and we increased our denim collection. All the prints explain something else, a deeper meaning, and we always give utmost importance to our prints. There’s always something to read in our prints. We love when our customers take the time to just read the prints, not simply buying them because it’s hype. We take inspiration from 90s music culture, today’s pop culture, and always have huge respect for streetwear. We are trying to make our own impact on streetwear by doing our signature prints on shirts, puffer jackets, denim, even though they can be harder to produce.
Our message is mostly mental – our Instagram bio is “The Right Balance of Optimisn and Discipline”. The biggest drop of this collection was Mental Distance, something we came up with after the social distance messages throughout the pandemic. We came up with the idea of mental distance because we thought it was more important than social distance at times. The attention from the clients, our community, was really good.

Freedom of Space prides itself on being genderless and very zero-waste & sustainable. Could you talk about your philosophy behind this and how you use it to appeal to your customers and community?

FoS: From the beginning of our brand three years ago we said all products are genderless. It starts from the smallest size to the biggest size, but any gender can wear it. It’s hard to have this stance in Turkey, still, some of our clients don’t understand why a woman can wear a man’s clothes but for us, it’s not like that.
In terms of zero-waste, we still have a big way to go, we are just in the beginning. This season, we expanded our zero-waste practices, making a collection dedicated to additional fabrics and sample fabrics that we have. We see many samples before we reach the final product, so we made a whole collection based on this leftover fabric. Using this method, what would normally take one hour to make a hoodie took five hours, so it’s much more work. The collection was 30-35 pieces and we just have one piece left, so our community loved it. It’s good for the customers because they can have one hoodie, but three or four different prints of the season. Some of them are harder to wear, but always tricky and always fun, which is what we aim to do all the time. We are trying to put fun in everything. For us it’s just the beginning, we hope we can do more in the name of zero waste.

You say you take a lot of inspiration from streetwear and 90s pop culture. Who do you think Freedom of Space is for, do you have an ideal client or customer?

FoS: What we’ve dreamed of is now the reality – we have a young culture that follows everything we do. Sometimes, when our customers come to the shop they know the stocks better than me. They are the real, true followers, not just on Instagram but they are trying to understand the brand identity. Our community is everything we could’ve dreamed or asked of, we don’t just have one person. Of course, we have some icons we are trying to reach with the brand, we reach some of them gladly.

At the Istanbul Freedom of Space store

I saw yesterday on Instagram Ashley Benson was wearing Freedom of Space.

FoS: Yes! Some celebrities are a real dream for us.

As a young, Istanbul-based brand what are some of the benefits and challenges you have found trying to establish a streetwear brand? How has that journey been?

FoS: There are no benefits. It’s really hard. It’s hard not just for a streetwear brand but to establish a brand. Even though Turkey is a haven for fabrics, a haven for clothing line manufacturers and workers, at the start it was not an advantage for us. We produce our collections in low quantities and it was really hard to find producers to make low quantities of clothes. These are the challenges.
As for the scene, it’s a still-growing scene, just the beginning. There’s really good potential, there’s a really young community in Istanbul aware of everything. They are proud to have a local streetwear brand. A lot of our community lives abroad and are very proud of having a Turkish brand they can shop at when they come back every summer.

That could be me!

FoS: It’s an emerging scene we are proudly a part of. We started to understand what the clients ask for. What is the meaning of a neighborhood – maybe you wouldn’t choose this neighborhood to have a streetwear store because there aren’t many shops around, but it is important for us to make people come just for the store.
The most important thing for us is to make the store not just a place to go and buy or go and see merchandise, but more like an experiential place, a creative hub. Most of the time, 5 or 6 young people, a community of friends, come here, one of them tries something on, one of them is just sitting, one is looking around, just taking pictures. We have a pink infinity mirror room as well.
We just opened the store at the beginning of the pandemic and we could not yet have an event, we couldn’t invite people to celebrate. But because of the pink infinity mirror room, people were able to hear about us. The room was the beginning of showing the meaning of experimental stores and experiential shopping. They know the store as the pink mirror room.

At the Istanbul Freedom of Space store

Is that why the store is called “The Space” instead of just “Freedom of Space”?

FoS: Yes, and to enable us to stock other brands, sneakers, and lifestyle books.

How would you describe the creative community in Istanbul? Is it supportive?

FoS: From the beginning, our community has been really supportive. Even when there are challenges, when they see the quality and the idea behind the brand and the store – the store helped us a lot, we started the brand before we opened the store and having a physical space helped us build our identity – the community has stayed really really supportive. If you are doing the right thing, people support you.

Could you talk a little bit about the future of Freedom of Space?

FoS: We don’t think about the future [laughs]. We want to have everything that we have now, which means the same effort and same love we put into the brand. It means that we have to work in the same way or more than we do now. Of course, we would like to have other stores around the world, we would like to cater to what people ask for. For example, a lot of people in the Gulf region and in the United States ask for stores, hopefully, we can arrange that.

Our editor, Ethan at The Space

How has the economic situation impacted Freedom of Space?

FoS: It impacts everything. It impacts the fabric we buy, the packaging. We are trying not to show our clients how the economy impacts us, we are trying our best not to change the prices a lot. It’s not the best thing, but we’ll see. It’s also getting harder to reach global designers because of the currency.

What’s something you as Freedom of Space want people to know about Istanbul’s fashion scene and designing here in Turkey?

FoS: That Istanbul and Turkey is a beautiful city and country, it is complex, it is a real mix. We grow in this mix. It gives you, if you are ready to take, a huge, huge inspiration. You just have to follow the scene here in Istanbul. There are many people like us, and hopefully, many more to emerge, that want to do something but it takes more time to do in Turkey because of the economics. We just need more time than others, that’s it.

Discover more about Freedom of Space, right here !