Meet Ceren Lee, founder of OddBird Co and mom of 5 lovely children. Oddbird Co. makes handwoven, sustainably & ethically-made small batch Turkish textiles & transitional loungewear. Read on to learn about Ceren's daily rituals, her creative inspiration behind her company and her favorite Tejari blend and recipe.
What does your Turkish heritage mean to you, and how do you carry on your culture’s traditions in your home life?
Funnily enough, my Turkish heritage was something I fought against as a kid. I desperately wanted to be like all the other kids in my predominantly White school in Australia. I hated that my parents didn't have regular 9-5 jobs in offices and instead owned what I thought was a ‘weird Turkish restaurant’ with belly dancing events on the weekend.
I remember wishing my parents spoke english fluently and could read me bedtime stories instead of singing me traditional Türkü music at night and I just wanted to live in a brand new brick home in the suburbs next to the other kids instead of the quirky ‘boat house’ on the top of Misery Hill (no joke).
But my parents were artists AND immigrants. They came to Australia with nothing and built a life for my sister and I that, now as an adult, I cherish. They taught us the importance of being different. They showed us that our culture is our superpower, our work ethic will be what sets us apart, that food is a love language and that our individual experiences are to be appreciated and amplified because no other person in the world has the same one.
They showed me what a blessing being an ODD BIRD truly is.
Today my husband and I do the same in our home. We’ve taken our children to Turkey countless times and have immersed them in their culture, let them taste the flavors of their roots and had them listen to the beautiful language of their ancestors. Turkish people love very deeply and loudly, and our home is filled with that kind of volume and energy too.
You seem to have a great love for books, photography and art. What inspired your collection of these items?
My husband, actor and photographer, Jason Lee, was the reason I became immersed in art. I was 21 when we met and I was lucky enough to find a cozy place under his wing. He opened my world up to art, music, culture, photography and also, believe it or not, my Turkish heritage. He was the first person I met in my life that told me to delve into my culture and nourish my roots, to speak my language, to cook and create art in all I do. We’ve been married 15 years and have 5 children and even in the chaos of our everyday lives, he is still the one reminding me to grab my guitar, or write in my journal, to discover a film from the archives or to flip through one of our hundreds of art books. He always encourages our family to live life as an artist.
Tell us about your beautiful family! What do you love most about spending time with them?
Our kids are 18, 13, 9, 4 & 2. We are a big and rowdy family and whatever we do together is bound to end in some kind of chaos. 😆
It's humbling to be chasing our fearless toddler, Edith and simultaneously watching our eldest, Pilot, apply for college. I mean, time is a real thief. I'm getting a little emotional as I write this to be honest!
I love how our newly teenage daughter, Casper, is now matching wits and cracking jokes like an adult, or posing valid arguments for her newly enlightened perspectives. I am deeply touched by the eternal optimism and high-pitched delivery of my 4 year old, Alberta and the tender heart of our middle child, Sonny. Each of them brings something so unique to the table that if I stopped more often to simply enjoy them, I think that would be what I would love most. Just really seeing them as who they are.But too often it is chaos and we are just trying to turn the volume down. haha 😆
Do you have any daily rituals that are important to you?
My first cup of coffee. So basic I know, but I covet that thing and I need it before I can function. Other than that, I think the most important ritual would be my prayer during my morning commute to work. I list the things I'm grateful for and thank God for those provisions. Practicing gratitude has been the single most significant factor in my personal happiness, especially through this pandemic. I found that the more I do it, what I have to be grateful for grows. It encourages an abundance mindset that is so important, especially when stewarding 5 children in a world that often feels heavy and bleak.
We’re big admirers of OddBird Company, a beautiful shop of handwoven, sustainably & ethically-made small batch Turkish textiles and loungewear. What led you to starting this company?
I would travel home to Turkey and return with endless treasures. I would scour markets and villages and meet the incredible people and be invited into their homes for tea. I would see them work with pride for their craft, with humility in their bones and optimism in their eyes and I would buy their pieces and never haggle like the other tourists. I would go home to my mother’s house in Cesme after a long day at the markets and complain about all the tourists trying to squeeze another Lira from the artisan when that Lira meant more to them than the 1/8th of a dollar it was to the tourist.
I would say ‘maybe I should sell this stuff in America and I wouldn't have to buy wholesale from the artisan and I could pay them what they are asking and still make enough money to sustain a business back in the States too!’. I could find rug makers, and textile weavers, cobblers and jewelers that were being gauged by the foreigners just to make ends meet and I could support them, buy from them at fair prices, pay living wages, give them the certainty of income, all the while honoring their traditional craft. Amplifying not only the traditional weaving techniques and art of my homeland but also of my people.
Focused on raising my 2 kids at the time, I actually had no intention of starting a business but after countless inspiring days of walking the towns and villages with my mother, I would have these long conversations about how there was a way to create something really unique without compromising.
So one day, while sitting in Izmir, I called my sister, Hazal, (now Oddbird’s General Manager) and told her what I wanted to do and it was Hazal that encouraged the focus on sustainability to align with the ethics platform I was envisioning. That was 2015. That summer I asked my husband for a loan of $1500 and with that I purchased 3 boxes of my treasured finds and shipped them to the U.S.
I set up at a craft faire in Denton, Texas and sold those 3 boxes and spent the money to buy 6 more boxes. Those 6 boxes turned to 12 until we launched Oddbird’s first website on Thanksgiving 2015.
Since then we have taken things slowly and honored our sustainability and ethics platforms, growing with our artisans and caring for Mother Earth every step of the way. After our first year we began designing our pieces ourselves and grew from a Turkish towel and textile company into what we are now. Today my sister, my cousin, Cagil (our production manager) and I run this family business and we couldn't be more proud of the families that have been supported along the way.
What are some ways your family prioritizes sustainability?
We are a big bunch so we need to be careful with our consumption. There are two big consumption factors for a family our size - food and clothing/toys.In regards to clothing & children’s products, we do our best to only buy used or vintage for the kids and pass our clothing down the line. When Alberta was born, my friends and I in Texas created a clothing exchange group and once one child outgrew their pieces it was taken to the next family in line to be used for their baby. I don't think I purchased new clothing for my 2 little girls for over 3 years.
Now, having moved back to LA, I joined another mother exchange group on facebook and work to keep that going as the kids continue to outgrow their clothing and toys. These groups have been vital in prioritizing sustainability in our home. There are now over 250 mothers in an East Los Angeles Purge Group that sells or exchanges to one another. Anything from furniture, textiles, appliances, adult & children’s clothing and toys. We all work to get the most use out of every piece that comes into our home and when we out-grow it (or no longer want it), we work to find another home for it. This way, our community is able to continue a greater cycle of use, as opposed to encouraging the destructive chain of consumption by replacing unwanted things with new products.
In relation to our food consumption, which is the other big one in our home, we try to make daily trips to the store for small items as needed. We find that when we shop once a week, a lot of our produce goes bad before we get to enjoy it and end up sadly, disposing of food. When we shop in smaller quantities more frequently we find that we home-cook more and have less waste in our home.
From running a company to raising a family, how do you make time to eat nourishing foods throughout the day?
In general, I am a huge supporter of regular body cleansing and try to do some kind of fasting or cleansing once a quarter. Currently I am finding the best results from ProLon and it’s really affordable! On the daily, I love throwing a sachet of Tejari into my purse for a smoothie at work or mixing it with my kiddos oatmeal in the morning. I make sure the OB HQ is stocked up with healthy snacks for myself and our team and I know it's obvious but WATER is key! I also find great joy in cooking and try my best to be home early enough to prepare dinner, which I think is such a Turkish thing for me. I feel like having dinner on the table at the end of a long day feels like a real accomplishment and a chance at connecting with my kids and husband. One thing my mother never failed to do and somehow was able to whip up . We have started sharing our family recipes on the Oddbird Journal and it’s a great source of joy to see Turkish recipes created in kitchens across the US and the world!
Why do you turn to Tejari as a trusted plant-based protein source? What is your favorite blend right now? Because I have Hashimoto’s, which is an auto-immune disease, my immune system is easily compromised by hidden gluten and dairy in products. Tejari is such a wonderful find because it's incredibly rich in the right plant-based proteins without any of the filler junk AND the flavors are incredible! And the best part is that we are supporting a woman-owned and run small business and not these big protein powder companies. You know your purchase goes directly to a hardworking, hustling mama and for me, i think that’s right on brand. My kids and I are obsessed with the banana flavor!
Can you share your favorite way to use Tejari, especially for kids?
My littles and I love making breakfast cookies and bars using the Tejari Organic Golden Banana Blend! They gobble them up right out of the oven and it’s perfect because we always have over-ripe bananas that need to be used!