Cancer is a crushing and life-altering experience that led one mother, after being unable to speak, to leave her job in sales to create a 6-figure online business.
Following the devastating diagnosis of a rare type of head and neck cancer (Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma) back in 2012, Zeynep was forced to consider alternatives to her successful career in sales. Motivated to provide a brighter future for her son, Zeynep came up with the idea of selling locally produced leather goods and vintage kilims online. Zeynep brought her brother Yusuf onboard as a business partner and together they created Galen Leather. Working under the brand, Galen Leather, from their humble workshop in Istanbul, the duo make leather notebook covers, pen cases, MacBook cases, iPad sleeves and travel accessories. They ship to thousands of their loyal customers all over the world.
Zeynep has taken some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few key questions about her business and inspire us with her story.
Tell us the story about why you love what you do and why you’re passionate about sharing your message.
I love living an analogue life; journaling, and detailing the stories of life. It helped me through the hardest seasons of my cancer journey and personal life. And I have always preferred notebooks made from leather which age naturally and only grow more beautiful with time. It’s rather poetic and something we should all strive for as we age, regardless of what you’ve been through in life. So it’s amazing we’ve been able to bring these two loves together into the business.
What was your greatest challenge during your business journey and how you overcame it?
To create an online business from a non-English spoken country and shipping all goods internationally. Communicating to our customers in English when it’s not our mother tongue was very challenging at the start! In five years we tried several different methods to prove our brand was trustworthy on the global stage. And we overcame it with improving and always working on our communication with bloggers, customers, brands etc..
What are 3 pieces of advice you would give to someone wanting to start out in a competitive online retail environment?
1. Focus – We’ve learned from other successful e-commerce stores to narrow your audience down to two or three focused communities, like stationary lovers, pen collectors and travellers. By understanding your specific customers’ needs better, you’ll be better able to better service them and you can only do this when you focus on just a couple. Don’t try and be everything to everyone.
2. Customers are the most important players in the whole picture; more than your product, price etc. Flowing on from this, it’s so important to take customer service and satisfaction seriously. Become community members yourself and follow forums and FB groups in your industry so you can respond to questions about your products, provide helpful advice and gain trust. Customers love knowing you’re a real person! Don’t be afraid to ask for reviews either! Try to understand what people think about your brand product etc.
3. Keep trying! Try, try, try until you succeed. I can’t even count now the number of times we’ve just had to try new business and marketing strategies until something clicked.
What is your proudest business achievement? Why does it mean so much to you?
To see our popular writing box being featured in several major publications!
Finally, what do you believe is the secret to success?
I believe everything starts with transparent and honest communication. Nowadays people look more into what they buy, where they buy it and from whom. They actually want to know who made this product and to see real people rather than simply big corporate brands and logos. And as mentioned before, keeping trying! The biggest advantage to e-commerce is its scalability so you usually have a bit more flexibility with trying new things.
To find out more about Galen Leather, please visit
*** All images are courtesy of Galen Leather.***