A wallet made by Allison Warrington in Cuenca, Ecuador, is among the items sold in Lesouque’s online store.
Gokben Yamandag grew up in Turkey. After college she worked at a textile factory as a textile engineer. What she saw there changed her path.
“I was deeply moved by the experience,” she says. “It was disheartening.”
Yamandag says she saw girls 14 or 15 years old working 70 to 80-hour weeks to create textiles that went to European and American brands. She not only didn’t want to be a part of what she saw, she wanted to change it.
She felt the only way to do that was to get to the United States and get her master’s degree, and through that degree, help girls like the ones she saw in the factory get an education. That’s how she wound up in Memphis. And then she met Penelope Fisher through Impact Memphis.
Yamandag and Fisher launched Lesouque, an online store selling fashion and homewares, in July. The company supports independent designers, with a portion of the proceeds from Lesouque’s sales going to the Malala Fund, the nonprofit named in honor of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner who champions secondary education for girls.
The name Lesouque is a nod to the souks — marketplaces selling all sorts of items. Lesouque features 20 artists and designers from around the world selling their small-batch wares. There are handbags from artists in Ecuador and Turkey; scarves from India and California; and jewelry from Tanzania and Texas. There are three Memphis artists as well represented on Lesouque: mugs from Brit Daniel’s Paper & Clay; Melissa Bridgeman’s plates and mugs; and Kong Wee’s jewelry.
Above left: a necklace made by Memphis jewelry maker, Kong Wee; Above right: a plate made by Memphian Melissa Bridgeman
The pair say they did extensive research on the designers and artists they partnered with. “We like beautiful things,” says Yamandag. But, she notes, all had to meet Lesouque’s exacting standards: All must be chic, modern, ethically made, and high quality.
Ironically, part of Lesouque’s message is “consume less.” Yamandag and Fisher want customers who thoughtfully buy their products. They feel that fashion should not come at the expense of equality.