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Esra Oztuk: Sophomore, Founder & CEO

student startup

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American University

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Esra Oztuk: Sophomore, Founder & CEO

Arzo: Etsy With A Purpose

10.13.16

This past year, AU sophomore and finance major, Esra Oztuk, launched her brand called Arzo, which she describes as “the Etsy for women affected by terrorism.” Arzo buys jewelry from women living in areas facing political turmoil, then sells their products through her online boutique, placing orders with the women based on their best selling work. Most importantly, Arzo pays these women double what they are selling their pieces for at home.

Interested in learning more? Esra answered my questions on everything from the inspiration for Arzo to what keeps her passion project alive.

M: What inspired you to empower women by launching Arzo?
E: My grandmother was a village girl and a child bride in Eastern Turkey; she never studied past elementary school. Two of my aunts had to leave Turkey to go to other countries, Austria and France respectively, in order to pursue their career goals of becoming doctors and engineers. Even if they had studied in Turkey, it would be excruciatingly difficult for them to get the level of respect in their careers that they have now.

These stories, combined with all the other women in my family, were inevitably compared to the circumstances I live in today. I grew up in Northern California with all the opportunities the world has to offer right at my fingertips. I couldn’t imagine for a second not using the fortune I’ve been blessed with to help those who need it.

What do you love most about Arzo?
The stories. Arzo is committed to honest storytelling. We separate our collections by the women who make them and bring them to life for our customers. We tell their stories, which are products of interviews conducted by Arzo Ambassadors. Our transparency is disruptive to the industry of social entrepreneurship.

One of our slogans is, “It’s not just hand-made. It’s hand-made by her. #HerStory”. which captures how we work with individuals and allow our customers to see each woman we employ. It’s important that we break through this misconception that the people we can’t directly see or hear are so different from us.

Do you have a favorite piece currently for sale on your website? What do you love about it?
My personal favorite piece is the Drenched Darling necklace that comes in three different color variations. The various splashes of color depict the chaos of life, but the colors flow together in a seamlessly effortless manner. I like to think each piece reflects the artist in a way, and this piece is a perfect representation of Ilknur. She’s a woman who believes that there is beauty in every struggle. She’s been through a lot, but she wears a smile every day. The piece has a bright and positive energy that reminds me of her.

How has the AU community aided in Arzo’s startup and success?
I launched the summer after my Freshman year, so AU has helped me a lot. I’ve received a ton of support in various forms from students, faculty and professors. A lot of students have helped me get the word out about what I’m doing, and my professors, as well as the faculty in Kogod, have served as mentors to me. I couldn’t imagine for a second doing everything alone. It’s great to be a part of a community that wants you to succeed on your own terms. For me- that’s impact.

Thank you, Esra. I am so excited about the work that you are doing to empower women across the world while becoming a certified #girlboss yourself.