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Meet Tara Cetinkaya of Modefa in Richardson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tara Cetinkaya.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Tara. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Our business began after my husband and I realized there was a need in the United States for affordable, quality Islamic products. In 2010, I converted to Islam, and I gradually began trying to dress more modestly. As my modest style developed, I realized how hard it was to find modest, yet fashionable clothing, even online. The mainstream stores at that time didn’t cater much to this taste — most ‘modest’ clothing was meant for the older population, and which didn’t suit me as a young woman. Searching online for Islamic stores proved very disappointing; there weren’t many that existed at that time, and most that did looked unprofessional and untrustworthy, or did not have a good selection of items. I remember ordering a few items from one website, and I was so disappointed with the quality of the products I received, it really was not what I had expected. After lamenting about this to my husband, he commented how his home country of Turkey has really great quality Islamic products, especially textiles. Turkey is a chief exporter for Islamic products to many other Muslim countries, including countries in the Middle East.

So we decided we wanted to start a business offering Turkish imports for the Muslim community here in the United States. We first began by offering primarily hijabs and scarves. We bought our first products in November 2011 — silk scarves, which are popular among Turkish women to wear as hijabs. We were lucky to be able to work with some big name brands in Turkey, that were also high quality.

I began working on our online store that same month. I had been working as a social worker in hospice, but was really drained at that point after being in the field for a little over two years; I was also very unhappy with the company I was at. My plan at that time was to take a break from social work, start our business, then once it was setup I could return to work, possibly on a part-time basis. Our website actually opened for sales in March 2012, and I returned to social work at another hospice company around that same time. That didn’t last very long, as I realized it was another company but the same thing, and I quickly became disillusioned. I ended up quitting my social work job about 3-4 months in, and decided to just work from home and put all my efforts into our business.

Our business grew quickly. As we learned what kinds of products people wanted, our product selection grew. In addition to hijabs, we also began offering prayer rugs. We did research to see what kinds of products people needed, and what was out there. We focused on offering what wasn’t available; from the beginning, we have focused on setting ourselves apart from other Islamic companies by offering quality products and excellent customer service.

In addition to growing our product selection, we also grew our sales platforms. Initially, we only sold products on our website, as well as selling to our local Turkish community. We gradually expanded to also sell on Amazon and eBay, and now we also have a showroom in Richardson. We opened this office / warehouse in December 2016, and decided to also offer a showroom area for our local customers. Over the past two years we have been attending a lot of local bazaars (trunk shows), and we always get asked, “Where is your store?” So we were happy to have a location where the public could come look at our products in person. The feedback with this showroom has been great, and without too much advertising we have had a good amount of customers coming in. We have also realized we are already outgrowing the warehouse space offered at our current location. Our next step, therefore, is to move in the Spring of 2018 to a new location, one that offers a larger warehouse, and where we can also offer a full retail location, with regular retail hours.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have definitely been bumps and challenges along the way. We have built our company from the ground up, and taught ourselves everything along the way, so sometimes it has been difficult learning certain aspects. A lot of times it is about trying something, failing, and learning a better way. With our product offerings, for example, there were definitely items that we started out offering that were a waste of our time and money. We have had to change and adjust our process along the way. Marketing and SEO are also a big challenge for me; there are so many aspects to consider, and things are always changing so we have to constantly look at our strategy. Google AdWords gives me nightmares! I also made a big mistake in underestimating the potential of Instagram as a marketing tool. I actually didn’t give Instagram much priority until earlier this year; people were telling me we should be on Instagram, but I’ve personally never been much into social media so didn’t see the value in it, and honestly didn’t understand it, so put it on the back-burner. We finally created an account a little over a year ago, and it has been very slow-growing. Then I suddenly had a wake-up call this year as I realized it is now a major marketing platform for online businesses, and we were missing out there. So we now focus on it a lot more, but I feel like we are behind a lot of our competitors.

Another big challenge has been balancing work and family life. Sometimes it definitely feels like our business is running our lives; this was especially true when we were running it from our home and didn’t have any help. I also really struggled when I gave birth to our daughter (who is now 2 and a half). I wasn’t able to put the time into our business then, and really all we were doing was the essentials to keep our business going, like shipping orders. I’m now 8 months pregnant with our second child, and I feel a lot better now about where we’re at, and I also know what to expect this time so I am looking ahead and making plans for our business for the next few months (like product launches).

For the past year or so, our business has been in the midst of growing pains, where it was getting too big for me to handle myself (my husband works full time as an engineer, but of course still helps on the evenings and weekends and we make a lot of decisions together). So I was always feeling like we were behind and there was so much to do to catch up. This year, we’ve been able to get help and catch up. Having an employee is definitely helping us, and it is making me a lot more confident that things won’t fall apart once we have our second child.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Modefa – what should we know?
We sell Islamic products, all of which are imported from Turkey. Our primary products are hijabs/ scarves, Islamic prayer rugs, Islamic home decor items, and modest women’s clothing. We expanded to start selling the clothing early this year.

We are primarily known for our Turkish hijabs, and especially our silk hijabs. There are very few people who offer these online in the USA, and those who do don’t really keep up with the current seasons like we do. These brand name silk scarves release a new season every 6 months (in the Spring and then again in the Fall), so we keep up with those releases. But the other USA companies selling these brands only offer old, outdated inventory.

In the last year or two, we have also really grown to be a well-known prayer rug and decor seller. Especially with prayer rugs, we really raised the game on Amazon; this is something we are very proud of. Before we started selling, there wasn’t much choice, and what was there was poor quality, with unprofessional product pictures. We offer a higher quality, including with our descriptions and pictures, and other prayer rug retailers now copy us. We consider ourselves to be the premier online retailer for Islamic prayer rugs in the USA. We’ve also partnered with a high-quality vendor for Islamic decor pieces, and have built a large customer base around those items as well.

One of the other things we are most proud of is our ability to offer quality, affordable products to our customers, and to do so while also offering excellent customer service. This has always been a focus and something we knew would set us apart from our competitors. Once example in terms of customer service is that we always ship items ASAP. We try to ship out orders on the same or next day business day. Our customers have been really impressed by this, and it is something that is a real advantage for us in being a small business. I’ve personally been appalled when I’ve ordered items from other online retailers (especially big, mainstream stores) and it took two weeks for me to get my order. Our U.S. customers can expect to receive orders within 2-4 days in most cases. If you look at our reviews on our website, and even on Amazon and eBay, we have consistent 5 star ratings, and many of the comments are thanking us for our fast shipping, and for selling high quality products at decent prices. It makes us so proud to see this feedback from our customers.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
There are actually two things — innovation and passion. We once read that no business can truly be successful unless it is run with passion, especially on the part of the founder(s). Our passion for this business drives our need to succeed at this. It makes us to constantly strive to be better. And that leads to innovation; we know we have to do things different than what our competitors are doing. We have to think of new ways to do things in order to set ourselves apart.


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Image Credit:
Tara Cetinkaya
Ilyas Cetinkaya

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