“When I feel good about something, I want to do it more and more,” says Murat Ozturk. “I want to get better and better at it.” It’s an approach he’s developed since his first job working at a denim factory in his native Turkey, and today, it’s the same way he looks at his role at Citizens of Humanity.
Inside his office at the company’s headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, Ozturk proudly displays his work: Along one wall, his latest patterns compete for space next to denim-inspired street- style shots, fabric samples and a few reminders from back home. The rest of the room is dominated by a floor-to-ceiling Laser Systems Technology (LST) machine, one of the six machines that Citizens of Humanity counts in its arsenal for distressing denim—the same technology that Ozturk, 30, has to thank for bringing him to Los Angeles to live out his American dream.
The third boy in a family of five brothers and two sisters, Ozturk was born in Ağrı, a small city in eastern Turkey. His father is a shopkeeper by trade, and his mother grows the flowers and vegetables they sell. “When you are little, it’s hard, but when you grow up, it’s amazing,” says Ozturk of a childhood spent surrounded by siblings. “You take care of each other.” When he was 15, the family, including his aunts and uncles, uprooted and headed for Istanbul, in search of a better quality of life and a better education for Ozturk, his siblings and cousins. Immediately the teenager felt at home in the country’s largest city, and upon graduating from high school, Ozturk landed his first job, at Turkish denim staple Mr. Bright.
There he immersed himself in the art of jean making, navigating his way through the process of dying, rinsing and treating the fabric. “On the weekends, I missed going to work,” says Ozturk, whose enthusiasm for learning was not lost on his peers (it’s a small, tight-knit industry in Istanbul, he says). Within a year and a half, he was handpicked to join the team that produced denim for Tommy Hilfiger and Levi’s.
Not before long Ozturk found himself on the front lines for the Levi’s Team, using his newfound know-how in etching designs onto fabrics, combined with his background in washes and treatments.
After four years, he was tapped to join the LST team. Taking his skills and knowledge into the field, Ozturk helped to educate other industry players about the possibilities of LST—including Citizens of Humanity on the other side of the world.
When Ozturk landed in Los Angeles almost three years ago, his plan was to stay for a month before heading to China on his next assignment, but he had a life-changing moment at Citizens. “We liked each other so much that they asked me if I wanted to stay.”
The young Turk, who had previously communicated via translator, began furiously studying English several hours after work each night. As of late, he’s embarked on Spanish lessons, too, to communicate even more effectively with his 10-person team.
Ozturk didn’t just bring six LST machines with him from Turkey; he’s also brought as much of the culture as he can. Instead of swimming in the Bosphorus, Ozturk now spends weekends in the water at Redondo Beach. Here he fishes regularly early in the mornings with friends—a hobby picked up in Turkey. Also a lifelong soccer fanatic, he continues his passion stateside as a member of a soccer team, playing matches every Friday night in the South Bay. He’s tried to pick up new interests, too, including surfing, which didn’t exactly go as planned. “I saw people doing it and thought I had to too, but it’s really hard.”
These days, it’s family and food that Ozturk misses most from his native Turkey—but even that’s changed. His new bride, Auka—has just moved to Los Angeles. “I really love Los Angeles and I don’t have any plans to go back to Turkey,” he says as he takes stock of his new life in America. “I really think anything you can imagine is possible here!”