Girl Crushin’ + On Starting with…Gaye Ilbay

Age is only a number. That’s what they say, and, in many ways, this is true. But spend any time around those either much older or younger than you and you can feel the differences, the illuminating gap where new things are learned and fresh insights brought to the surface. This became apparent to me when I met Gaye Ilbay. At the ripe and shining age of 16, her unbridled enthusiasm and optimism has shown me that 1) I’m older than I think I am and 2) true connection transcends time spent on earth. She embodies the beauty of youth, that time when everything is possible and within your grasp —the kind of naiveté we could all use a little more of.

Although she’s only 16, her ambitions far outpace her years. While many 16 year olds are preoccupied with parties, school and the shifting nuances of social circles, Gaye has her sights set on entrepreneurship and fashion, looking for ways to merge the two and eventually realize her dream of creating a fashion line for professional women. For women who are strong and rooted within themselves and who are determined to get where they’re going, wherever that may be. The ones she admires and is well on her way to becoming. Spending time with Gaye has reminded me why we look forward, why we keep striving and why all of this matters; because there is always a fresh generation believing in more and living in the hope that time often wears away or shades into darker hues. Her energy has been my inspiration, and I thought I’d share a little of it with you. Because while wisdom may come with age, it knows no age either.

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How did you first become interested in entrepreneurship?

I was always saying as a kid that I wanted to be a business woman or a fashion designer, and as I grew older, I noticed that I wasn’t somebody who could work for a boss. Entrepreneurship was already in my family as I have many uncles and other family members who have started businesses, and when I was around 14 I began to really notice it and think about it for myself. But it was about six months ago when I started taking action. I began researching it on my own and my interest grew bigger and bigger. That’s when entrepreneurship became a real obsession. I was reading books and articles and watching interviews, and I liked it because to me it felt so much more unique. It’s not like a basic job, it’s so much different.

At that time, did you already know you wanted to do something with fashion?

At first, I really didn’t know. I wanted to do something with entrepreneurship. I wanted a business, but I didn’t know what kind. Then last spring, I read an interview online and they were saying, “Yeah, entrepreneurs need to do something they are good at and passionate about, because when it’s your passion, it’s easier for you to work on it.” I started thinking and, for me, that thing was always fashion. At that time, I was giving up on fashion because I thought that you couldn’t make money from it, but fashion and entrepreneurship were always my passions so I thought that maybe if I could combine the two, then that would be perfect for me.

You took a class for young entrepreneurs last summer. Tell me about that. How did you find it? What was it about?

So I found it on Instagram actually, through a sponsored post. It was an entrepreneurship class for young people, from the ages of 16 to 21. I checked out the website and saw it was in Amersfoort, the city where I live. That summer I wasn’t going anywhere so it was perfect. In the beginning, I really didn’t think I would go. I was really doubtful.

Did you have to apply to get in?

Yeah, you had to send an email explaining what you wanted to do. I said I wanted to create a fashion business line for women, and luckily I was accepted.

How long was the course?

Six weeks but we still get together every month — it isn’t really finished.

Was it helpful?

It was really helpful. It was just a basic course with marketing, general info about how to register your business, that kind of thing, the basics you need to learn. But the biggest advantage was that it was really good for my network because I met a lot of young entrepreneurs who are still helping me. I was also paired with a business coach who has been helping me write a business plan. I’m really happy about that, and now I understand the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. Also, there were a lot of inspiring kids who attended. There was even a kid who was only 13 years old. You had a lot of different stories of what people wanted to do and it was all their passions so that was really interesting to hear. Everybody was really different but we were all really close because everybody had the same goal of becoming an entrepreneur. It was different than hanging out with your friends and talking about entrepreneurship, because I also have my other friends and I was talking about entrepreneurship with them, but they didn’t know anything about it. So they were saying, “Yeah, we will see. Being your own boss is so hard. I don’t think you can do that.” But in our entrepreneurship class everybody was saying, “Yeah you can do it, and I can help you with that. I can help with your website. I can do your logo. Oh, we need to work together!” Everybody already had a lot of knowledge in entrepreneurship. So it was a very motivated group and everyone was motivating each other.

So you still keep in touch with people from the class and are meeting with a business coach?

Yeah, with a few of them. I met my friend Shane in the class and now he is one of my best friends. As I mentioned before, we also needed to pick a business coach at one of the networking events we attended during the course. My coach is Silvia and now she’s helping me personally. Every month we make an appointment and together we try to make progress on little things, like making my LinkedIn Page, going to a master class or events, and we’re also writing my business plan.

The people around me that are my age, my friends, sometimes they say, “You’re just 16 years old, why are you doing this?” But for me it’s just that this is my passion. So I think; “Yeah, I’m gonna follow it. And yeah, I’m 16 years old, but that makes me unique.”

Since you’re so much younger, when you tell people what you want to do, do you feel like people generally get excited or do they not take you seriously? 

Well, sometimes they think it’s funny that I’m 16 and have such big dreams. I think older people that are already successful in entrepreneurship are always really shocked that I’m 16 years old, so that’s funny. And then when they say, “Yeah, tell me you’re story.”, I’m telling it and then they always say, “Wow, when I was your age I was just going to the club and hanging out with friends and drinking, but I was never going to networking events.” They always wonder, “Woah, you’re already like this at 16?” So that’s always really nice to hear, but it also gives me a lot of motivation to just keep on doing what I do. The people around me that are my age, my friends, sometimes they say, “You’re just 16 years old, why are you doing this?”. But for me it’s just that this is my passion. So I think; “Yeah, I’m gonna follow it. And yeah, I’m 16 years old, but that makes me unique. And I can better do it now so that I can already learn so much more and get ahead of the game.” So I’m also trying to read books. I’m trying to do a lot of self-education so that my road to entrepreneurship will be much easier. And I’m only 16, so there’s no risk.

What are you working on now?

I have a plan. I want to start an exclusive fashion line for women entrepreneurs. Everyone sees business clothes as boring clothes — you know, the boring gray jacket with the skirt — but I want to give a new, fresh look to business clothes. Men always look super powerful in their suits and they always have the good stores for their suits, but for women, there’s not like, “Oh that store is so good for professional fashion!” It’s always H&M, but then it’s the grey suit and the blue suit, and it’s always so boring. I want to create something exclusive that makes women feel powerful. I also want to stimulate women entrepreneurship because it’s always the men, and I want to encourage women to get on top. I think when you have the right clothes on you already feel so much better about yourself and that is important.

That’s the big goal..so what are you doing now specifically to get there, because we were talking earlier about how we always hear about the end achievement but never about the work people put in to make it happen.

Yeah, I always look to the end, but lately I realized you need to look from the start. You can’t 1,2,3 have a clothing line. There’s so much work to do for that, it takes so much money and it also requires a lot of people. So now I’m starting with a smaller venture. Another passion of mine is motivational quotes. So I want to make jackets with embroidered motivational words on them so that women can also feel powerful in a jacket that’s different from a normal blazer. I think I can start with that because it’s not too much risk. It’s not too big, and I can easily start on it from home, and it can help me get more publicity and followers.

So with your business coach, does she give you tasks to do each week or how does that relationship work exactly?

Well in the very beginning she was asking more personal questions about why I’m doing this and things to get to know me better. The second  time we met we made a mood board with a lot of pictures of my vision for what I want to create. Every time we do small things like that and make a little more progress. We also go to networking events and do a lot of brainstorming, that kind of thing.

At school they teach you to think really small, but I think when a kid knows what their passion is and what they like, they can always start a business in that.

You’re only 16 which means you also have to go to school and work and have other responsibilities. It could be easy to just go hang out with your friends or do something else instead of working on your business. How do you stay motivated?

Sometimes it’s hard, but I just try to motivate myself daily. I speak a lot to myself in my mind, and I think that’s really important to give yourself motivation. I also follow a lot of inspirational quotes on Instagram to keep me inspired and active, and I fantasize everyday about having my own clothing line — I think that’s what really helps keep me on track. You really need to keep it in your mind, the end goal. That keeps you going.

What do you say to yourself in moments of doubt?

I really just can’t wait to start, but first I need to finish school. So I end up telling myself things like, “This year you just need to pass your exams, and then in the summer you’re gonna work really hard on the line.” So keeping myself focused on both school and the fashion line, trying to balance the two.

What are your biggest hopes for being an entrepreneur?

I’ll be most excited when my company exists. I really hope that’s going to happen. I also really want to start now, and not just when I’m 30. I hope people can say, “Oh she’s 18 and she already has a company.” Also, when my company is running and I am more established, I want to go to schools and inspire younger kids. I want to show them that their young age is not holding them back from starting a business. You can start whenever you want. You don’t have to go to university and then start a business — you can also start from home. I just really want to inspire people because I think kids are not motivated to become entrepreneurs. They are just going to school and learning to go work for a boss, and I want to show kids that they can also be their own boss. At school, they teach you to think really small, but I think when a kid knows what their passion is and what they like, they can always start a business in that. You don’t have to go work in a job, you just need to know what you like and what you are good at, and when you know that, you can always start a business.

What are your biggest fears?

Now, I don’t have fears because there’s no risk. I don’t have anything to lose. So yeah, there’s actually no fear. I think the biggest fear maybe is when my plan can’t happen anymore or something like that. When I would need to think about Plan B, because I really want Plan A, and I’m going to achieve that because that’s my biggest goal now. I think my fear is that that can’t happen. That people are gonna say,“Okay, now you need to go to Plan B.”

And for funsies..

Who are you following right now?

Actually, nobody. There’s no one that I’m like, “Woah, that one!” I don’t really look up to someone because people are asking who’s my inspiration, but I can’t think of anyone..maybe Olcay Gülşen, she’s the owner of SuperTrash. She’s also Turkish and a designer and she had a really hard childhood. When I read interviews with her, she reminds me a bit of myself, her character. I can relate to her and she is also a real power woman. She’s super motivated.

What are you reading?

Girl Boss and In the Company of Women.

What does the world need more of?

Women leaders.

What do you think your greatest strength is?

That I’m ambitious. I think that I’m really ambitious.

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Follow along with Gaye at gayeilbay.com. We’re gonna want to watch out for this one!

Read more profiles of powerful and beautiful women starting things and just being generally awesome, here.

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About the series…

Girl Crushin’ is a series that profiles the women in our life that we admire and relate to, the ones we just can’t help but have a girl crush on.

On Starting is a series that explores what it means to start something new, whether that be a business, a new lifestyle or a new adventure. It examines what it means to start, the impetus that drives people to do it and the work it takes to get where you want to go.

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