“It all went a bit fast,” says Zeynep when she walks into the former court in Eindhoven. In the past, very early, around 1870, prisoners were brought in here via the back entrance on horse and cart and later released jubilantly through the front door.
“This building is alive. You can see that in everything. Look how my heels sound on these wooden stairs.” Tap, tap, tap. The white ankle boots with double black heel – designed to celebrate her ten year anniversary as a designer – go upstairs. “I can really enjoy this sound.”
The building is no longer a court. But – for Corona – a vibrant creative place with a restaurant, café and fashion academy. Because on the first floor is Zeynep’s Business and Fashion Academy.
The first year the academy consisted of 22 students, last year there were already 87. Many students apply because Zeynep is so successful. She started her venture in 2017, after five years as a freelance shoe designer, she was told just too often that her designs were not commercial enough for big brands like Zara.
“It did something to my confidence.” Still, she believed in her designs and made her own collection. Towering heels that say ‘Fuck you’ with diamonds, stilettos with pistols. Heels with orchids and gold leaf.
From her first designs, she had to sell ten pairs of heels to pay for a new collection. Within a month she had her hoped-for annual turnover, thanks to singer Rihanna.
“Friends thought my shoes suited her. To bring them to Rihanna’s attention, I had to pay fifty dollars to put them on her fan page. Her stylist looks up to that. She bought seven pairs, half my collection.”
Other Hollywood stars like Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez followed and soon the number of orders via the webshop exploded. After five months she had a showroom in Paris. Not much later, Zeynep had to cancel a ton of orders. “The manufacturer in Parma, Italy, could no longer cope with the demand. I underestimated it all a bit, I believe.”
Now Zeynep is accustomed to mentioning large amounts in dollars, whether the Moroccan dirham, the Iranian rial or the Hong Kong pound. She lives a glamorous life with a Range Rover and a penthouse. It is in stark contrast to how she grew up.
Her parental home is in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Eindhoven. On the edge of a residential area, but just on the wrong side of the street. “In elementary school I used to hang out with the girls from the big houses. They wore nice clothes and I liked neat and chic. They lived the life I wanted too.”
But the white children went to HAVO, the black children to VMBO. A VMBO framework was devised for Zeynep, with accompanying learning. “It still hurts when I think about that period. My Cito score did not fit this advice, my parents fought for me, but the teacher stuck to his point of view.”
“It was really bad,” says Zeynep and she shoots. She was ‘the stud’ and was bullied. Her gym clothes were clogged, she spent breaks in the toilets. There she ate her sandwiches and learned for her quizzes.
It was not easy for her at home either. She didn’t grow up in a stable environment, but she doesn’t want to talk about that any further. “Let’s just say it was a miserable childhood.”
She progressed from VMBO to VMBO-T. A few teachers have made the difference. Such as Mr Van der Heijde, her math teacher. He made her take an extra test. “My grades were high, except for mathematics. If I got an 8 or higher, he convinced the director that I could go to HAVO. I never found mathematics interesting, but suddenly I had a goal and got a 9.”
It was good at HAVO. “My best time ever. I still had to fight because it was tough at home, but I was an exemplary student.” Here, too, a teacher was important: Mrs. Van Vlerken instilled in her a passion for art history. “A world opened up for me. She taught me that you could communicate with images. She took me along, appreciated me as a person. I learned a lot from her.”
And later, while studying applied design, a teacher asked her the question: “Why do you always wear heels?” “I like it,” she replied. But he didn’t think that was good enough. “He gave me a week to figure it out. Heels make me feel powerful and sexy. It’s the best way to make myself clear. Shoes let me make my voice heard.”
From that moment on she knew that her future was there.
She started out as a freelance shoe designer and product photographer for children’s clothing. At the same time she did a master’s degree in art history and completed a teacher training at ArtEz.
Knowing where your strength lies
As a guest lecturer she gave lessons at graphic arts and fashion schools. But they could be better. “Students at fashion academies had to work with a sewing machine. A jewelry designer doesn’t need that, does it? I want to teach students to be successful with their creative ideas and to pass them on what worked so well for me.”
At her private school you will learn about self-love and self-development, about professionalization, e-commerce, marketing. “In many schools you get assignments and if you successfully complete them, you receive a diploma. You are not helped to develop your own ideas successfully. To do that well you need to know where your strengths lie and where not. you here. “
She tells about a woman from Rotterdam. “She had no qualifications, but was smart and ambitious. She did the training and within a few months she started her own company with her own products. All she needed was the knowledge and the help to get started. start. “
Zeynep is happy to provide this help to her students. Because after years of bullies, struggles and persistence, she wants to give her students a completely different study experience. One where you are appreciated for who you are. A training where you discover what your strengths are and how you can become successful in it. “I’ve seen how bad people can be. Now I always want to do good.”
Not taken seriously
Her company Alzúarr is growing fast, but the self-made millionaire is still not always taken seriously. Men in particular sometimes struggle with her success. “I am ultimately responsible and want to know everything. Now, for example, I am working on three major international deals for which I hire external parties: an accountant, lawyer, civil-law notary.”
All men. And yes, you sometimes hear something. “‘Corona will be tough for you, you can’t make your hair beautiful.” “We are on a million dollar deal. Take me seriously and just do your job.”
Slobber sweater on
“I’ve already heard all kinds of things: tonight in my bed I can arrange something for you, for example. Or men who put their hand in places where I don’t want them.”
“Just because I wear a tight dress does not mean that you can touch me. I once put on a thick baggy sweater to an appointment with a lawyer because I thought: let’s go again. But he turned out to have good intentions and is now my regular lawyer. “
‘I’m on top of everything’
Zeynep is not a scared entrepreneur, but a fighter. “I’ve been through so much shit that I’m fearless in my work. I have nothing to lose.” She works hard, from seven in the morning until she goes to bed.
“But that’s my fault, I’m a micro-manager. I’m on top of everything. I mind all the emails that go to the students, the Christmas gifts and the color of picture frames hanging on the wall behind me, where all my staff is up. “
For a moment, Zeynep was afraid that corona would have a significant impact on her company. But she has had a great year. Perhaps thanks to corona, because Zeynep now works nonstop. “There is nothing else to do.” And online shopping grew rapidly.
She had one setback: her men’s line. She launched knee-high heels, specially made for men’s feet, last year. “I really thought: this is the future. Men might as well wear heels.”
American drag queens had been sold and had them shipped. But on the other side of the compass, she lost customers. “The orders from the Middle East stopped. I wasn’t too happy with that, so I have now made the line less visible on the site.”
She often has to deal with culture clashes. “We help women who come to the showroom in Paris to put on the shoes and check that they fit properly. But in the popup store in Dubai we were not allowed to sit at the feet of the women, they found that humiliating. a shoe with a watermelon was also not done. “
Now she has hired someone who speaks Arabic and understands the culture. “I founded my brand with the idea that you can show yourself through your shoes. Especially in the Middle East, many women do that, because they wear a Nikab.”
Pass on knowledge
But not only there, Zeynep’s shoes are sold all over the world. “It’s great to see so many people wearing my shoes.”
Zeynep doesn’t want to use the word ‘pride’. But she looks around and is thrilled that she can pass on her knowledge through her private school. “It’s cool, isn’t it,” she says a little later, as she descends the stairs of her school on her heels.
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