Find something that will keep you going no matter what. Something that will let you take risks. I am a big risk taker and I always follow my inner voice.Leyla Uysal
About Bajêr Watches
Bajêr Watches is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but its roots stretch across the world. Its products — made with Swiss components and Italian leather — are inspired by founder Leyla Uysal’s Kurdish culture, and feature motifs Kurdish women traditionally weave into rugs. These motifs allowed Kurdish women to speak through their artistry while they were silenced by their society. Now Leyla uses her brand of luxury watches to amplify their voices.
By centering Kurdish women in her brand, Leyla hopes to draw the world’s attention to their struggles and inspire other women to make change in their communities.
Bajêr also partners with NGOs to provide training, education, and healthcare to Kurdish people in Turkey.
“Our mission is to empower women and children in those communities,” Leyla explains.
Learn more about her journey from Turkey to Bajêr and the keys to her success in her interview with GOBankingRates.
You have a fascinating personal story that began in the Kurdish regions of Turkey. Can you tell us about that? How did your background shape the way you run your business today?
My gender and race have always been one of the main challenging so-called limitations I came across throughout my entire life and yes, unfortunately, it still is a big challenge even here in America. In the Kurdish regions, they called girls “êksiq,” which means “missing/not full” in the Kurdish language!
If I had been a good listener (I am blessed that I won’t listen to any voice but my own), I would probably become an êksiq and just would follow the paths my cousins took who were forced to be married at around 13-14 years old.
Being a Kurdish woman in Turkey was not an easy task, but I made it through. I was the first person in my family (which consisted of my very large tribal family of about 5,000 people) to complete high school, the only girl in my graduating class and the first to leave for college. I trained as an urban planner and am currently a master’s student at Harvard Graduate School of Design. I also am a graduate of MIT Sloan School of Business and Management where I focused on Management and Leadership in High Luxury Fashion. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to listen to myself, and ultimately create my business.
This battle, fight, the desire for freedom, and all that I experienced are purely reflected in my business. Bajêr decodes the secret language spoken among the Kurdish women and brings their voices to a very international arena in a very prestigious and beautiful way.
My business became a platform for me to communicate with my roots, my indigenous heritage and to be proud of it as a Kurdish woman. I had an opportunity to change my life and became an incredible opportunity. So at Bajêr, we are committed to providing opportunities to our rural Kurdish communities worldwide, particularly in the Kurdish regions of Turkey. In my business, gender, race, and all other qualities are embraced with love and respect, just the way I would have liked to have had it back home, in Turkey.
You’re passionate about empowering Kurdish women and children. In what ways does Bajêr help do that?
Bajêr believes in empowering people by providing them with a sustainable way of doing things, including teaching skills. One of my partners, Enver Ozkahraman, teaches women how to produce organic dairy products and honey while also teaching them to weave rugs- the ones we weave our stories into as silent Kurdish women. Bajêr supports them and their ateliers. Our other partner Non-Government Organization (NGO), Lotus Genc Alan is helping children and women in terms of education and health-related subjects.
Are there any challenges unique to running a luxury fashion brand? If so, what are they?
Yes, of course! There are a lot of challenges running a business let alone one that is a luxury fashion brand. Maintaining the exclusivity of our brand is at the top of my list — I have an exclusive and a rare product that has to differentiate itself from other luxury brands that have been on the global market for decades.
The next one is maintaining the consistency and standards of our high-quality craftsmanship and operations. Everything from production to packaging, shipping, website management and all other very important aspects of running this business is challenging.
Apart from this, fulfilling all my responsibilities while attending a full Master’s program at Harvard, getting involved in a laboratory at MIT as a full-term intern, having two little children ages 6 and 7, running our house and its non-ending chores is challenging. But every day is a new beautiful day, and I am blessed to be able to manage it well and keep it all together so far.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner?
My whole life until I immigrated to the U.S in late 2013 was under the control of my male family members. When I tell my friends that I actually never interacted with money until I went to college at the age of 23, they find it hard to believe.
The best part of having my own business is to have achieved independence — in the decision-making process and financially. The second best part of it is to create a healthy, empowering and embracing business culture in which I truly enjoy working with people from different backgrounds and cultures. It’s simply beautiful.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
The very first advice would be to find a passion. Find something that will keep you going no matter what. Something that will let you take risks.
I am a big risk taker and I always follow my inner voice. I would tell them to go with their gut feeling and try it out. If it works, amazing, if it does not then you know what not to do and you can focus on another way of doing things.
In addition to focusing on your passion, make sure that you move strategically. You have a goal, your strategies are written down and you are good to go with your road map.
And, finally, never forget that this whole process is a learning process. And I strongly believe that your journey is unique to you. Maybe something you want to do does not make sense to others, and their advice might be to not do it. Well, do not listen to them!
Enjoy the magic of not listening and following your own voice. For me, when it comes to chasing your dreams, the only voice you should focus on is your own, then the others become noise. You do not want to get lost in that noise, so stick to your voice and follow it all the way.
Always remember, starting a business is a journey — it has many ups and downs. But it’s your journey. It’s your path. It’s your story. Write your own story and be the author of your own book.
What does the future hold for Bajêr throughout 2023 and beyond?
In 2023 and beyond, Bajêr envisions a future of continued growth and global recognition. Bajêr will be expanding its presence in international markets, leveraging digital platforms, cultivating partnerships with influential figures and establishing itself as a prominent luxury watch brand across the globe.
Our cultural heritage, social mission for a better world, customer satisfaction and the high and unique quality craftsmanship will be always at the center of our growth.
Type of Business
Luxury fashion brand
Bajêr hopes to draw attention to the struggles of Kurdish women and inspire other women to make a change in their communities.