Born in Turkey and trained as a lawyer, disillusionment at both her country and choice of career, alongside a love for creative design, led Damla Turgut to turn her back on the legal profession, relocate to the UK and establish Otto Tiles. A specialist in hand-made ceramics, she travels extensively to research and source new materials, patterns and producers, giving her a keen understanding of regional business practices and the significance of different aesthetics within the context of global cultures.
DE: What motivates you to do what you do?
As I answer this question I’m currently on a sourcing trip to Morocco to find new designs to launch. I am very passionate about what I do and I love discovering a unique shape, pattern or material. I want to offer something different, something exciting, that’s what drives me, to be a market leader in bespoke handmade high-quality tiles.
When I see a completed project for the first time, be it a restaurant or bar or a residential project and I see our tiles, it gives me amazing satisfaction. I’m always proud to have been a part of the team that made it possible.
The experience of working with award-winning interior designers and architects from all around the world continually motivates me. I particularly love to be involved in projects that require the creation of new designs or the challenge of uniquely specified products that no one else can do, such as sand-blast finish cement tiles, reclaimed-look cement tiles, pattern inserted terrazzo tiles, Scarpa-Olivetti tiles.
Receiving a phone call from a client or a designer saying that they love Otto Tiles makes all of the hard work worthwhile and drives me to keep pushing onwards, to be the most successful I can be.
DE: Is there a landmark moment in your career that really shifted the way you see the world?
I began my career training as a lawyer. I studied law in Turkey, practising for three years and came to London to do my Masters Degree in a specialist financial sector. I instantly fell in love with London but the legal world there did not feel the same. Having a Turkish passport and visa proved difficult, and eventually, I had to return home to Turkey with a heavy heart. This was in 2013, when Turkey was in the middle of a big financial crisis and a lot of foreign investors were pulling out of the country due to the high political and economic risks.
I was going to interview after interview and hearing the same answers from the all the biggest global law firms. Everyone was cutting back and reducing their team size and I should apply again in seven months. I felt disappointed, angry, hopeless, and I was getting depressed. The last interviewer— who was a very senior, very wise man— told me I should take a break and reassess my options after he saw the tears in my eyes.
So I did. By December 2013 I felt very lost, with no sense of purpose or direction. One thing I knew was I didn’t want to live in Turkey anymore.
My family is in the publishing business. Things were not going well for them either so my father made a decision to change industry. Our neighbours own a ceramic factory in Turkey. Thanks to them, my father set up an export company to sell their tiles. I saw an opportunity there and knew my father would not be able to succeed without some help as he did not speak English and had no experience of the export business. After just a few weeks I went to Nairobi for an exhibition. After the staid world of corporate law I loved the new contrast— travelling, selling and working for myself. The only problem was what I was selling; the tiles were dull.
I decided to create my own tiles in the patterns and colours that inspired me, selling to a new worldwide market led by a more fashion-forward interior style. That for me was my moment, when everything fell into place. My brother and I established Otto in 2014 in Turkey. I moved back to London in 2015 and founded Otto Tiles.
In Turkish we have this saying, “her şerde bir hayır vardır”, which is something like “every cloud has a silver lining” in English.
DE: Who inspires you?
I admire successful and determined women, women who follow their dreams, women who are afraid of nothing, women who are unique. I especially admire women who have children and continue to work. I admire self-made women who work to make a difference, improve and rise-up.
I admire and am inspired by my female competitors such as the owner of Jatana Interiors, Popham Design, and the owner of Cle Tiles. And, of course, my mum inspires me. She believes in me and supports me every single day.
See the full feature in our current Change edition