The vibrant interior of the 3rd Culture boutique in Turkey's capital Istanbul, inspired by African design

3rd Culture is a multidisciplinary creative studio and boutique based in one of Istanbul’s historic neighbourhoods and run by designer Zeynep L. Rende, and photographer Emre Rende. DECO interviewed the pair to hear more about their inspiration.

Also offering graphic and photographic services, the talented duo behind Istanbul’s 3rd Culture have recently launched a product design line, directly influenced by their extensive travels through Africa and the various cultures with which they interact.

Launched in April 2015, the designs include a variety of home accessories, gifts and furniture. Appearing in the current issue of ELLE Decoration Turkey, 3rd Culture caught our attention with their use of African fabrics in their designs.

DECO caught up with Zeynep and Emre during their recent trip to Johannesburg to find out a bit more about how a little piece of Africa made its way into Istanbul…

Designer Zeynep L. Rende and photographer Emre Rende; 3rd culture boutique based in Istanbul
Designer Zeynep L. Rende and photographer Emre Rende; 3rd Culture boutique
Where did the initial idea come from?

Z: About a year ago we applied one of Emre’s street portraits from India onto an iPhone case. We loved the result and decided we wanted to do more. From there on we started thinking of other products we could create that were inspired by the cultures we had encountered and that had marked us. We had been buying pieces of African fabrics in our travels and it only made sense to start developing a collection using these fabrics and the artisanal possibilities in Turkey. The ‘inspired by the world, created in Istanbul’ motto was born.

Inspired by the world, created in Istanbul.

How did you come to work together on 3rd Culture?

Z: I had been working as a products designer in Paris while Emre was working as a freelance journalist and photographer in Kenya. We both decided to return to Turkey around the same time and had started developing ideas about the brand we wanted to launch. So the timing was just right, we moved to Istanbul and went for it.

Why are African fabrics incorporated into your designs?

E: Quite simply because we adore them. We are fascinated by their journey and history and we love the bold patterns and of course the incredible use of colours.

Which African countries have you visited?

South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti, South Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, South Sudan, Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Zimbabwe.

Which African country gave the most inspiration?

Zanzibar has a very special place in our hearts.

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A typical business day for 3rd Culture entails…

E: Seeking vintage furniture in Istanbul’s second hand shops, spending time with our neighbourhood’s artisans such as our upholsterer and tailor (everything is made within a 1km radius of our boutique). Selecting, scanning, printing photos and spending time in our boutique where interacting with our customers is proving to be one of the major highlight of what we do.

Top 3 local designers in Istanbul for us to follow on Instagram…

@tartargoodsPinar Gercek’s jewellery and accessories brand TAR TAR is a very cool
@hammdesignMuhammet Tasli, one of the founders of the company Hamm, plays an important role in Turkish design
Aida Pekin is also one of our favourite jewellery designers

Top 3 major influences on your work…

Dutch design, Eliott Erwitt and, as cheesy as this is going to sound, mother nature.

Who should ELLE Decoration have their eye on in Istanbul?

E: Istanbul is buzzing with creativity at the moment as new waves of artists and designers, both local and international, settle here to call the city home. The local design and art scenes are booming and just like in cities like Johanesburg and Mexico City, the blend of a rich local culture with contemporary ideas of design and art have created something very unique here.

Even though your products are influenced by countries abroad, in what way does local design/culture influence your designs?

Z: We are very much inspired by our local environment. For example we hadn’t thought of refurbishing second hand furniture until we arrived in Istanbul. As we started settling into the our neighborhood, we simply couldn’t ignore the chance of working with these pieces. We have also recently acquired some of the renowned raw silk from Antakya which we are pairing with African fabrics.

What cross-section do you see between Turkish and African design?

Z: In both Turkish and African design there is a very strong link to crafts  and tradition. Instead of creating entirely new aesthetics, we feel Turkish and African designers are looking into their pasts and they are not just modernising their history, but re-evaluating it.

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Are local traditional artisans still being supported in Turkey or is it a dying industry?

Z: Neighbourhood businesses and local artisans still play an important role in Turkish society and it’s difficult to see that disappear. The design industry is definitely in tune with this and many of the current designers are sourcing locally and using local craftsmen. 

Everything is made within a 1km radius of our boutique

What are the main positives and negatives of working in a creative industry in Turkey?

Z: The most positive thing is that you can get anything made in this city. Every neighborhood still has numerous tailors, upholsterers and carpenters. Industry and production is at your finger tips and not tucked away in an industrial area. So ideas come to life quite easily. The negative is that trends come and go too quickly.

Is there a strong entrepreneurial start-up culture, similar to South Africa?

E: It’s very similar to South Africa from that point of view. Neighbourhoods like Karaköy and Galata (very similar to Maboneng in Joburg) are bringing together a lot of creative start-ups.

What is next for 3rd Culture?

E: We’re holding our first photography exhibition entitled People of Saltwater throughout the Istanbul Biennial which takes place between 5 September 5 – 5 October. We’re also very excited about the launch of our online store in mid-September. Then we’re going to start getting ready for our second collection.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?

Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Favourite words to live by?

“Why the f*** not?”


Visit or follow @_3rdculture on Instagram for more inspiring prints.

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