In celebration of The Conran Shop’s new partnership with Turkish enamelware brand BORNN and the release of their Colorama collection, we connect with founders and sisters Öykü Thurston and Basak Onay to discuss the brand’s sustainable values and their aims to revive and modernise the traditional craft for a contemporary audience.
1. Firstly, please tell us a little about yourself and your business.
We are a company founded by two women with a simple vision of designing unique and well crafted artisanal enamelware. Öykü is an interior designer and graduated from FIDM in Los Angeles, whereas Basak studied Fashion Marketing and Communication in Istituto Europeo di design in Barcelona. The idea behind BORNN is to give new life to a vintage material and bring it to light.
2. You founded the brand together as sisters. In what ways has this partnership been beneficial to the success of your brand?
We both have backgrounds in the creative industries. When we were global nomads growing up in Tokyo, Barcelona and Los Angeles, away from our hometown Istanbul, we were exposed to different cultures and craftsmanship, which inspired us to create our own company bringing together years of developed skills and local heritage. We have the same eye for the design yet with two different personalities. There is a Yin Yang type of relation between us, the forces are different but in the best way, they mutually complement each other.
3. Are there any designers or business owners that have inspired you?
Jaime Hayon (inspired by his Spanish roots), his designs are vibrant, witty and multidisciplinary. We also love the designs of AAKS, a handcrafted bag brand from Ghana founded by a woman (Akosua Afriyie-Kumi) that employs local artisans. We are also influenced by so many Bauhaus designers and in their vision of bringing together craft and fine arts and in their approach of unifying the principles of mass production with aesthetic and everyday function.
4. Enamelware is an age-old craft with such an interesting history. Please could you tell us about your process?
Everything starts with an inspiration spark, mostly fueled by our travels. The happy place that travelling and being exposed to new things, smells and visuals takes us to our creative space, and we always come up with the best ideas when we are travelling. Then we go back to our studio to play around with those ideas. Enamelware is produced by fusing glass onto heavy-gauge steel. Raw steel bodies are machine mulled or hand-formed and then hand glazed and kiln fired.
5. Your products are made in partnership with local artisans in Istanbul. How important is this to your business, and how do you think working with the local community has informed your brand ethos?
Our brand takes its inspiration from the fascinating history of enamelware and, by using traditional techniques, we produce modern, unique and handcrafted pieces to help keep these skills alive. There is an instructive and fruitful relationship between our artisans and us, yet we are coming from different generations and have completely distant insights, we both have a common ambition to create beautifully designed, high-quality products. Their know-how, along with our design capability, is what makes us different.
6. What three spots might you most recommend to anyone wishing to visit Istanbul to help understand the heritage of craft in the ancient city?
Çukurcuma is one of the most fascinating neighbourhoods in Istanbul, with lots of vintage stores and old ateliers. Öykü used to own a vintage furniture store and a felt studio in that neighbourhood 15 years ago, and we love going back to visit our friend Erkal Aksoy’s dreamy A la Turca, which is located in a landmark building and has the most unique art, antique and textiles.
Most tourists coming to Istanbul visit The Grand Bazaar, but actually, the must-visit atelier and artisan workshops are located outside of the Grand Bazaar in little old Hans which has been there for many generations where you can get custom made pieces.
Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi is the oldest Turkish coffee producer in the city, and their shop in Eminönü draws you in with its smell from a couple of streets away. You can get freshly ground coffee, but you have to have the patience to wait in a long line.
7. Your tableware is instantly recognisable due to its vibrant colour combinations. Might you have a personal favourite colourway?
That is a hard question as we spend so much time finding the most complimentary colours when designing our collections. As the pigments change during the enamelling process in the kiln, it is quite difficult to imagine how a product is going to come out of the kiln. When we do the first samples for a collection, it is a lovely feeling to be pleasantly surprised. I remember especially being out of breath when our blush plates from the new Marble collection first came out of the kiln.
8. The Conran Shop is delighted to offer your products; which of our products is your favourite, and why?
I love the lighting selection at The Conran Shop. As you can find a lot of timeless classics like the Parentesi Floor Lamp by Achille Castiglioni and Pia Manzu for Flos or pieces by new designers like Lumio Book Lamp in the classic walnut finish by Max Gunawan which I am obsessed with. I also love the nanimarquina rug collection, especially the ones designed by another Turkish designer Begüm Cana Özgür.
9. Your pieces are stocked in renowned locations worldwide, from the MoMa to the Vitra Design Museum. How has working with such institutions affected the local craft community?
When we first started, it was very hard to find artisans that would accept our new ideas, which were very much against what they have learned and practised for years. Being sold through such prestigious stockists paved the way for more people to know our brand and ultimately to more sales worldwide, which enabled us to take in and employ more artisans. Now we do not have to persuade anyone to come work for us, as they know that we will be asking them for different things, and they are more accepting of new ideas as they trust our vision.
10. Lastly, what do you hope the future might hold for you and BORNN?
For ourselves, we want to be able to travel the world again. For BORNN, the hand-poured soy wax all-natural candles we launched last year have been a huge success. We wish to add more hand-produced product groups to BORNN, which complete our tableware settings and offer a full scope for our customers.
All images courtesy of BORNN.