Repaying a Debt of Gratitude to the Black Sea

Traveler: Çiğdem K. Selimoğlu – Founder of K’ai&Vrosi

Why do you travel?

Travel leads to connections, either with myself or with new people I meet when travelling. Travel offers the opportunity to see the world and all its immense beauty in every corner. It’s in the landscapes, the atmosphere, the history or the people. There are always new things to discover.

What are some of your most unforgettable escapes that have inspired the identity and story of your brand?

I grew up in Istanbul but my parents migrated from the Black Sea, and when I was a child we used to go to our hometown Bulancak, Giresun every summer. I was brought up with the stories of the older generation which have seeped into my mindset. After my father’s untimely death 8 years ago and when I was travelling back from Giresun, I decided to bring to life this dream of transforming traditionally handloomed peshtemal fabric into something valuable.

Where do you search for inspiration?

My mother is my biggest inspiration as she symbolizes the powerful and hard-working women of the Black Sea region. Peshtemal is a colourful fabric that women of the Black Sea used for hundreds of years-  and still do – while gathering tea leaves and hazelnuts from the fields, and my inspiration comes from women who work, whether inside or outside the house. I have been inspired by these women and have incorporated their characteristics of strength and tradition into my shoulder as bags and accessories.

How does travel shape the development of new collections and new pieces?

Craftsmanship is the key to the brand, and every time I travel to the Black Sea I meet and talk to craftspeople who help me to rediscover and share their beautiful handiwork time and again.  During my travels I often sketch out an idea for a finished product which brings the fabric and leather together in a new way and makes me feel like the possibilities are endless.

What are your favorite escapes at home, unique hidden gems in Turkey that everyone might not know about?

I am a little biased towards the Black Sea but the truth is there are dozens of places and plateaus to discover on Turkey’s north coast. Besides the popular areas for Escape readers I could suggest hidden places to stay in Ordu, Giresun, Maçahel or Fındıklı. You can mail me 😊

How is your brand tied to our culture, geography, heritage and history?

Peshtemal is one of the cultural symbols of the Black Sea region of Turkey which is used by the women as a scarf and to keep their skirts clean while they work on the land collecting hazelnuts or picking tea leaves in the orchards. We have changed the use of it and adapted to modern life by the few remaining craftsmen which are still able to do. With the developments in the machine industry people moved away from traditional weaving and were no longer able to compete with lower prices, thus this traditional fabric started to sink into oblivion.

As K’ai&Vrosi we are the first in Turkey to bring the traditionally woven peshtemal back into production in a modern way, support local craftsmen and keep these skills alive. “K’ai” and “Vrosi” both mean “good” in Laz language. While “K’ai” is predominantly used in the Arhavi region, “Vrosi” is mostly used in Ardeşen region. In bringing them together we reflect the diversity, the rare use of Laz language but also the traditions that unite people in the region.

We reinterpreted this fabric – which is the product of a very rich culture and brought back peshtemal to life by combining it with genuine leather and handwoven wicker to create contemporary and beautiful handbags, purses and accessories and in doing so repay a debt of gratitude to the Black Sea.

Share with us some of your favorite summer stays here in Turkey.

The highlands to the east of the Black Sea region are always perfect getaways for renewal, isolation and meditation. The climate is full of surprises – you might wake up to a foggy morning before the sun comes up and then the rain can move in. The plateaux –  from the Turkish word ‘yayla’ are more than a word, they are a way of life for local people and they represent it.  The most spectacular ones are located in Fırtına Valley, Kackar Mountains in Rize but also the highlands of Trabzon, Ordu and Giresun are full of hidden gems to discover. My favourite spot is in Kümbet and Bektaş yaylası which is a 2,5 hour drive from the airport of Giresun. If you go to the further eastern part of the Black Sea I suggest you stay in small pensions in Maçahel, Amlakit, Gito or Pokut Yaylası and visit Elevit Yaylası. If you are lucky do not miss the sunset which is the the best moment of the day that we call “Cloud Sea”.

Favorite restaurants?

Continuing with the Black Sea my favorite fish restaurant is in Pazar, Rize Kvacoli which is by the Black Sea. For traditional bean try Liman and Lale Lokantasi in Rize, or famous Black Cabbage soup in local places. When it comes to “muhlama” (cheesy cornmeal) try to eat in Çinçiva Kahve in Çamlıhemşin or any yayla might accepted 😊 Do not forget to stop by the one and only coffee house in Çamlıhemşin “Zua” to try their daily made local desserts.

Favorite local finds from local brands, artisans and craftsmen?

There were many traditional craftsmen in the Black Sea area, who made baskets for collecting tea leaves or hazelnuts. Unfortunately many of these crafts have sunk into oblivion with industrial developments and cheaper products replacing them. However, in the city centres such as Trabzon and Rize you can visit Mastering Institutes where all the artisans and handmade crafts are all together.

Another favorite brand from Camlihemsin is Moyy Atolye where they transform the traditional fabric “feretiko” into modern products which are also made with hemp and cotton yarns on wooden handlooms.

For local souvenirs stop by Peri Dükkan in Çamlıhemşin where you can find handmade beautiful products, honey and spices. And also do not forget to try and buy the perfect local tea made by Lazika.

Ideal travel partners?

My husband and son. I can’t imagine traveling without them. 

Can you share with us an unforgettable memory from a Mediterranean escape. 

Kas is my favourite place in the world after the Black Sea. Bilal’in Yeri in Limanağzı is my hidden place to recover, and any time spent there stays long in my memory.

Where are you dreaming of escaping to next?

Before the pandemic we went to the Black Sea to visit the craftsmen and then I travelled to Datca and rented a house with our friends. It was our first post-covid getaway with our children, and swimming in the remote bays of the Aegean coast was unforgettable. Our next escape will be the Black Sea again, I love every season there but in autumn it is very special to observe the changing seasons there.

What does traveling mean to you?

Traveling means apart from healing, discovering new places and meeting local people it’s a commitment to myself. It gives me the opportunity to increase my resilience.