Case Study

Spotlight On A Store: Bebemoss Part 1

Welcome to Storetasker’s Spotlight On A Store series where I interview entrepreneurs about their Shopify stores and more, connecting our readers to ideas and advice from the minds of store owners just like them!

1. At Bebemoss, you provide fair trade jobs to more than 80 stay at home moms, most of whom live in the outskirts of Istanbul and do not have other chances to make money for their families. Many are refugees from Syria, trying to restart their lives and provide for their families in a new country.

How did you decide to turn your Shopify business into a social enterprise, and how did you become involved with NGOs like TIDER (Temel İhtiyaç Derneği or “basic needs society”) and Small Projects Istanbul Syrian refugee community centre?

Well, the whole adventure is a bit of an accident I would say. I had a very difficult second pregnancy which kept me stuck in bed for many months. So I started knitting toys and things. I actually started this thinking I would be a small shop on Etsy but then we had some sales and people were asking for more and more products, so I said: “ok let me find a small team and we will make this hobby a little bit bigger.” So I put an ad on a Turkish online website and I had a huge response to that ad. It was something very simple like “hi if you are like me, a mom who wants to make some income working from home would you like to join me and knit my toys with me?” Within the first two weeks, I had maybe 200 phone calls so I had to turn that ad off.

This is when I realized there was something here that could be more than just a small team. I started thinking about business and finding information about women and unemployment in Turkey. Then I met with Zeynep who is my partner, and she is the owner of a small yarn store and she already had a small team of underprivileged women working with her so that’s how we started with around 15 women.

Then things grew and grew and as you know there is a big refugee crisis going on in Turkey and I have been involved with a lot of NGOs and have been doing a lot personally like collecting clothes and books and trying to offer stuff to kids. So I thought, I have this business developing so why not integrate refugee mothers as well? So it’s as simple as that. We just contacted some places that were already working with them, and it’s a nice way to offer additional income to people who are really in need.

Those moms cannot go and work someplace else because they have a lot of children to take care of and they have a lot of duties. Some of them come from conservative backgrounds where women are not allowed to work outside of the home, so offering them this flexible way of working where they can come to our workshop when they want to with their children or work from home is very suitable for them.

There is this whole category of women in Turkey who are left out of the trade market because they are mothers. So that’s the story. We are doing very well and it’s been a bit over five years that we have existed. My Shopify website has been growing seriously only since 2018 because I started working on it. Today we have a little bit over 100 women working with us. It wasn’t really planned, it just happened, and maybe because it happened in that fashion it took us more time to work at the fast pace we are working at now.

photo of two Syrian children at the Small Projects Istanbul Syrian refugee community centre

2. You make knitted toys that are organic? What are they made out of and how is this material better for the environment and for children than the traditional materials used to make toys?

I am a French expat and I have been living in Turkey for a very long time and in the Turkish market, green products that are all organic are not very available. So I was looking for materials which are sustainable and are healthy for babies so we use locally sourced, certified organic cotton to make the toys and we even wind the yarn ourselves so that the toys are very eco-friendly and kids can put them in their mouth.

There is a whole aspect of toy safety that comes with producing toys, so we had each and every model tested by an organic laboratory so that they conform to the highest safety requirements. All of our toys are certified EN 71 which is a European directive for toy safety which is even higher than the U.S. or the Canadian one.

An image of a Bebemoss employee working in front of many different  varieties of yarn

3. Which of the animals you and your team make are the most popular with your customers and their children?

The lion is definitely our star. That’s the favorite one. After that, it depends actually, and it changes a bit, but at the beginning of the year, we launched a unicorn so I think that is a close competitor to the lion for the #1 position. The unicorn is quite popular too.

photos of four of the Bebemoss stuffed animals
a photo of four other Bebemoss stuffed animals

4. I noticed that your store design is simple, and I think it helps to emphasize the photographs and the story behind the toys you sell. How did you choose the theme and design for your store?

Well I am a struggling startup and I am a bit of a one-woman show, so I chose something I was comfortable with and it was simple enough for me to be able to do it myself.

5. I know you are originally from France, so what brought you to Istanbul and how did you decide to start a business selling toys online?

I had a very good job in the fashion industry actually in Paris which drained me a lot so I came to Turkey and I just fell in love and I stayed here. Now I’m married, I have three kids, and I have been living here for 13 years. Again, this business was just an accident. It was a hobby that I tried to turn into extra income, because I didn’t want to work in a corporate environment, I wanted to have a little bit of flexibility and have some time for my family.

6. A lot of people who run Shopify stores use fulfillment centers because they are dropshipping or they don’t produce the products they sell themselves, but at Bebemoss you make all of the toys you sell. How does this change the process for fulfilling orders? Do you have a team of people who package and ship the toys and keep track of all of the orders?

Yes, we are currently shipping out of Turkey which I hope I am going to be changing soon because logistically it’s ok but it’s quite costly for me. My market is in the United States so I ship DHL. Basically, when you purchase something from my shop in three days you have your order, but it costs me a lot of money which I’m paying out of my pocket because my customers wouldn’t be willing to pay that. So I am hoping in a few months to be able to fill from within the United States. For now, we have a workshop here, so we receive the orders. I have automation which translates those orders into Trello, and we pack them, ship them, and scan the barcodes with an iPhone.

It’s quite simple, there are three people involved in the process. One doing the retail papers and the other two packing and shipping from our workshop. We have a regular pickup every evening from DHL. I am really looking into fulfilling from within the United States. I have been talking with three pm fulfillment centers and I am trying to organize that for the very near future. That would reduce my shipping cost by half. We would ship in bulk from here and then they would dispatch the orders from the United States.

7. Which Storetasker Expert/s worked on your store and what did they do for you? What was your experience like working with them? How did you decide to choose Storetasker over online marketplaces for freelance services like Upwork and Fiverr?

I have two Storetasker Shopify Experts who work with me, Claudia and Darlene, and I know about Storetasker actually because I am a member of The Inner Circle, you know, Susan Bradley’s online community, and Darlene and Claudia are part of that group as well. They are extremely involved and are helping a lot of people, so when I have something to do and I know it’s within their competency and their range of services I turn to them.

I haven’t had a lot of coding work done, but I had a lot of work done on my popups and they also helped me set up my Klaviyo and automation. The rest I did myself. I want to change a few things in the design and I hope I can custom code a few things as well.

8. You spend most of your time with refugees from Syria. What would you like the world to know about them and their experience living in Turkey? Have any of them shared their story with you or with other members of your team?

Yes, it’s so much more than just a business and so much more than just producing toys. First of all, we have a playground for children in the middle of our workshop because all the moms are going to come in with their children.

Children playing while their moms are making stuffed animals

The fact that we are a mixed community is an excellent way to integrate them because usually the refugees and the Turkish moms don’t have the opportunity to mix and mingle that much. So bringing them in and sitting them next to each other, despite the language barrier, brings them closer together. For me, it’s a whole different world. When I first came from Paris I had no idea about the Turkish society’s habits so I discovered a lot. There is something very universal going on; we are all moms and we all have our kids and we all have the same goals. It’s absolutely unbelievable.

Syrian and Turkish moms sitting around a table knitting stuffed animals

Take me, a girl from Paris, or Rania, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, or Zeynep, from one of the suburbs near our workshop, we are all the same. We are moms, we want to provide for our children, and deepen the future education, so these similarities have brought us close to one another. So yes, there is a lot of sharing, and there is a lot going beyond just a coworking status. We arrange them in groups so each small group has a leader, and within the groups, there is a lot of help and a lot of advice. Kids are playing together.

Also because I happen to be involved with a lot of NGOs, we are trying to bring a little bit more to the workshop. For example, we had one of the NGOs come to the workshop and provide a financial literacy program to the women, so they taught them how to make a house budget and how to do micro-savings. We helped them open bank accounts because they didn’t have bank accounts.

We had another NGO come in who taught them about nutrition for kids. So, there is a lot more going on than just coming together, getting yarn, and knitting the toys, and this is actually what kept me going. We have been in business for over five years and it has been difficult, and I am driven very much by this social aspect.

Do they ever talk about their experience with moving from Syria to Turkey?

Yes, they talk sometimes about it, and they all have their stories. Some are happy, some are sad. They show us pictures and we talk about it. Their life in Istanbul is not very easy, first of all, because life in Istanbul is not easy in general. When they come from Syria and they are here for three, four, or five years, without any hope of going back, it’s very difficult for them.

An image of Izabella teaching two Syrian women how to make Bebemoss stuffed animals

9. What else would you like our readers to know about your brand, your mission, the women you are providing jobs to, and your partnership with local NGOs in Istanbul?

First of all, I would like people to buy our toys because they fell in love with them and because they find them nice, and second of all, I would like them to consider the fact that when they choose to spend their money with us, that one simple purchase has a very significant impact. Just one toy means four meals for a woman here with the money she is earning, so there is a very immediate return on investment I would say on every single sale.

Our goal is to grow, and also the amount of sales we can achieve is deeply tied to the number of women we can employ because the toys are hand made. If we want to make more toys we have to bring in more women. This is what is motivating us and I hope people will help us to achieve that by buying more toys so we can bring in more women, and maybe tomorrow we can be 150 or 200.

Read Part 2 of the Bebemoss Story