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Rene Women Interviews 0003: Zeynep Rende

I distinctly remember where I was when I first encountered the colorful work of 3RD CULTURE. I had just arrived back to Istanbul after an unexpectedly long time away taking care of family in the US. I had just reunited with my sister-friend, Allie, and we had booked the best airbnb in the city– Rene Homes BosphorusHouse.


I picked up the brightly-enameled metal cup and turned it over. There was a set of symbols that was intriguing. Geometric. Modern. Connected to something important, I thought. It did not strike me as a brand logo, as much as it did as its own language. I wanted to know more.


It began an idea that would become a collaboration between the owner of Rene Homes, Rana Gork, and myself. We would get to know these women entrepreneurs of Istanbul. And we began with Zeynep Rende, the co-owner of 3RD CULTURE. On a sunny day, we ventured to Cukurcuma, a hilly neighborhood with narrow streets filled with vintage shops, cafes, restaurants and boutiques to hear more about the story of this brand and its co-founder.


3RD CULTURE is an Istanbul based design company with the mission to create products that celebrate the strength born from cultural diversity. Combining visual components and references from various different cultures, their homeware collection promotes a global and inclusive design aesthetic. Founded in 2015 by designer Zeynep Rende and her photographer brother EmreRende, the 3RD CULTURE brand encompasses a unique collection of furniture, photography, lighting and home textiles created under the brand’s creative guideline ‘Inspired by the world, created in Istanbul’. Their global inspirations coupled with their continuous work with local craftsmen and workshops in Istanbul results in vibrant and unique objects that encourage cross-cultural conversation through design.


Zeynep and Emre grew up as Third Culture Kids, a term that refers to the children who accompany their parents into another society. It was first coined by researchers John and Ruth Useem in the 1950s, who used it to describe the children of American citizens working and living abroad. Ruth Useem first used the term after her second year-long visit to India with her fellow sociologist/anthropologist husband and three children.


When you step foot into the 3RD Culture storefront, you’re struck by the collision of passion– graphic design and patterns (from Zeynep) and stunning global portraiture (from Emre). The shop is an extension of how they experience the world– global, colorful, mixed, all places being home and no place being home.


The cups are from India, the furniture is hyper-local (produced in Istanbul) and most other items are collaborations with Turkish-based workshops all over the country. Entrepreneurship fits Zeynep– she’s used to making her own rules, working with many types of people and letting go of social conventions that many who grow up in one culture don’t even think twice about. In fact, she and her husband met in France, married in Turkey and still remain long distance– he in Geneva and she in her creative corner of Istanbul.


Beyond her design work, I think I’m most inspired by how she invents her life and how she allows what moves her to be central to her work. I get the sense from her that she’s seen as an object of fascination merely because of how she grew up, and though she navigates it well, 3RD Culture can become a sort of partner that speaks for her, inviting us all to open our own minds and see ourselves as who we really are– unique members of a larger global family with much in common but also much to learn from each other.


Here’s a Q&A we had with her in her Cukurcuma studio:

Steph: Where were you born?

Zeynep: Brussels. And then we moved every 2-3 years after that, mainly around Europe because of my dad’s job. After Belgium we did Bulgaria, Austria, England, France. But I only have a Turkish passport.


S: How long have you been running your business?

Z: 8 years next month (April).


S: What was the beginning like?

Z: We were quite naive when we began our business. We moved to Istanbul to build this business, so we had to get to know Istanbul as we built it. We had to get to know the ustas and the factories and what can you make and with who and where? Designing is great, but when you have to actually produce things, that’s when it gets more real and more difficult. There are minor decisions that the producer might have to make for you, and if they don’t get your vision and your aesthetic, then they will make the wrong decision.


S: What are your favorite places in Istanbul?

Z: First of all, I LOVE Cihangir. Our neighborhood. I live there, my parents live there, I’m just really happy here. But Istanbul still feels new to me. I only moved here 8 years ago. Anotherone of my favorite places is this little spot by the water you can walk to from our neighborhood. You walk down to Karakoy and take a right. There’s a bit just before the Galata Bridge where people go fishing. I think that right there is one of my favorite spots, it’s where you see and sense the beating heart of the city. When my husband comes to visit, we always go there and we just sort of watch and hear. You can close your eyes and hear the ferries, the birds, the fishermen, the city. In our neighborhood, for food I like Journey and Balya a lot, but for a few glasses I like Susam Cafe because they have this little cozy outdoor corner. The people who work there are lovely and it’s owned by a woman, too! Mellow is also great for appetizers.


S: What’s your favorite place in your home?

Z: I have a little workstation corner, where I can also see a little bit of the Bosphorus, and I can see my home bar and bookshelf. It’s like half workstation, half chill out. I can be in multiple worlds at one time. If I’m at home, I’m usually working.


S: Do you have a pet?

Z: Yes, a cat named Ziggy. Rescued from Cihangir.


S: When you take your work home with you, what is it that you’d be working on?

Z: Mostly the creative stuff– patterns, packaging, illustrator and photoshop stuff. I’ll be editing photos. I really like doing those things in my own space.


S: What does the name 3RD Culture mean to you in reference to your business?

Z:  It’s from Third Culture Kids– a term coined by an American psychologist. So, these kids are raised in their formative years outside of their parent’s culture, and they end up forming this other culture. They’re a part of several cultures but also not really a full part of any of them. The motto of Third Culture Kids is, “At home everywhere, at home nowhere.” And when we were looking to name the business a friend of mine had sent me the TCK book. I ran the name by my brother, Emre and it was an instant click. Because it’s a Turkish photographer’s point of view on India. It’s furniture made by the ustas in Turkey but inspired by Mt. Kilimanjaro. It makes it a little bit culturally ambiguous. It’s ok to celebrate that kind of diversity.


S: Why do you think your customers love your products so much?

Z: Well, I think that there isn’t so much color around, especially in design products. It’s unique, it’s colorful and each product has a story. People find something they can relate to, from a location or even a feminist design.


S: Did your childhood influence you becoming a designer?

Z: When I was put into school in Bulgaria, I didn’t speak French, English or Bulgarian and so I just sat in a corner and began to draw because I couldn’t really communicate with anyone. I found quite a lot of comfort in that. I was always drawing and painting and going into the creative classes. Also, my dad used to take me to galleries when he would buy art.


S: What do you think the outside world misunderstands or misses about Turkey?

Z: People underestimate Istanbul. And I let them, because when they come to visit, the surprise and the awe of seeing Istanbul and discovering Istanbul is something that I like seeing in people, it’s priceless.


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