Editor’s note: In celebration of eBay’s 25th anniversary, we’re spotlighting a seller every week from our global community in our Mini Stories column through 2020.
Through her eBay store, Modefa, Texas resident Tara Cetinkaya connects women around the globe professionally, offers goods for the modern Muslim household and creates a community that gives back. It’s a role she’s assumed with enthusiasm — and that highlights her continuous commitment to helping others that’s followed her throughout her life, while also demonstrating to her 5-year-old daughter that, as she says, a “hard-working woman can have her own business, be successful and make her dreams come true.”
From an early age, Tara always knew she wanted to make positive change in the world but didn’t realize her impact would be as an entrepreneur working within an adopted community and new-to-her culture. Raised by parents who worked in the social service field, Tara followed in their footsteps, earning both undergraduate and master degrees in social work and intending to one day start her own nonprofit. “Seeing my parents’ work was really meaningful, and I felt like social work was a career path that would use a lot of my skills, but at the same time would feel like I'm making a difference,” she said.
Tara and her husband Ilyas in the early 2010s.
Along the way on her educational path, she met her now-husband Ilyas, who had been born and raised Muslim while growing up in Turkey. The couple, who met in Albany, New York, in the mid 2000s, later moved to Dallas, Texas, so that Ilyas could pursue his engineering studies. In 2010, after reading a lot and studying Islam on her own, as well as “doing a lot of soul-searching,” Tara said she converted to the religion and sought to find products that both suited her desire to dress more modestly while still aligning with her own personal fashion style.
While shopping in stores, the options Tara found then were either modest but styled for older people or were more fashionable but made in winter-weight fabrics that were too heavy and hot for the humidity in Texas. “Even at the simple level of ‘I want a decent scarf to wear for prayers at home,’ I was getting so frustrated,” Tara said of her search to find appropriate head coverings. “In Turkey, they have a lot of really great options. And so my husband and I asked each other, ‘Well, why don't we just make a business of importing Turkish products for Muslims?’”
The couple used the signing bonus from Ilyas’ new job as their startup investment and ordered a shipment of Turkish scarves that left Tara “just amazed at how beautiful they were, how elegant.” She said the scarves were sourced from small businesses, established name brand companies and “we even had some traditional Turkish scarves called yazma, which have handmade lace borders — these were made by friends and family in Turkey.”
Tara’s eBay store, Modefa, now has a Dallas showroom, featuring head coverings, scarves, apparel, accessories and more.
Tara and her husband opened Modefa, a blend of the words “modest” and “fashion,” on eBay in February 2013; “We started with silk hijabs, and we had some other random knick knacks from Turkey,” she said. “I knew that eBay was a strong platform, and it was easy to get set up on there. So I thought it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try and see how we would do.”
Though she initially started out small to develop her entrepreneurial skills, her business quickly ramped up and grew exponentially. By the end of the year, Tara was working on Modefa full-time. Bolstered by an enthusiastic buyer community, her store’s inventory offerings have expanded into apparel, prayer rugs, décor, jewelry and more. “I’m always blown away and shocked by how excited people sometimes are about finding us and how nice our products are,” she said.
Her business also now has a storefront showroom in Dallas, with several employees. Her store’s success has propelled her sights for the future toward additional product offerings, more international expansion and even perhaps more physical storefronts. “I have high hopes for us,” Tara said.
Tara’s connections now span far beyond her hometown of Dallas, a connection she attributes to eBay. “There's so many people all over the world — especially in Canada, Europe and Australia — who are really interested in our stuff, and eBay has made it really easy to connect with those global customers,” Tara said. “We’ve even had people in Turkey buy our stuff, which is mind-boggling to me, because it’s coming from there.”
Tara with her husband and their two children.
In addition to finding success within the greater community, Tara has realized the benefits of her new business path in terms of her family. She and Ilyas have two children, a 5-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son, and Tara said her business helps strengthen their family. “Ilyas and I are both really hard working, and we both have a strong desire to succeed. Both of us came from backgrounds where our families were poor when we were younger,” she said. “And so I saw this as a good opportunity to raise our station in life and make something for ourselves, make a better life for our family and for our kids.”
Ilyas now also lends a hand to the business whenever possible while still working his day job as an engineer, and his doing so has added richness to the couple’s relationship. “The business has really brought us together,” Tara said. “It’s really cool to have something that we're working on together and that we've both devoted so much too, then to see it grow and succeed together.”
Tara’s commitment to acting as a role model starts with her daughter. “I want to show her that she has what it takes, the perseverance, that if you work hard you can accomplish your dreams. That a strong woman can take care of herself, be independent and self-sufficient,” Tara said.
As Tara’s customer base has grown, it’s provided her with opportunities to lean on her own experiences to help other women, especially those who have also converted to Islam. “They’re trying to figure out for the first time how to wear a hijab or what kind of scarf to get,” she said. “One lady recently was like, ‘I don't know how to wear this. I need help.’ Trying to support her and find scarves... those experiences of helping other women is really meaningful to me, especially remembering how I was once at that same stage.”
In Dallas, she’s part of a community of Muslim women business owners who gather to network and uplift each other to reach their business goals. The group, Muslimahpreneurs, meets monthly to chat about shared challenges and offer advice. In addition, Tara reaches outside Dallas to other women who are also entrepreneurs and share similar experiences to her, using Instagram “because there’s a lot going on there as far as Muslim women communicating with each other and supporting each other as businesses,” she said. “It makes me really happy to be a part of this movement, of all these Muslim women rising to the occasion and trying to make things better for our community.”
“More and more, you’re seeing Muslim women entrepreneurs trying to revitalize the whole Muslim consumer industry, not just with clothes and décor, but also with Ramadan and Eid decorations,” Tara said. “There are so many Christmas decorations, and we want to make Muslim holidays special for our kids too.” Indeed, Muslim holidays are the biggest sale seasons of the year for Modefa.
Inside the Modefa store in Dallas.
This year, under COVID-19 restrictions, Ramadan felt different for Muslims across the country. With mosques closed to worshippers, many sought to spruce up their prayer stations at home with new prayer rugs and decorations. Tara’s business picked up in response, and orders flowed in far past ordinary pre-pandemic levels. With Tara juggling her roles as business owner and mother, “Ramadan was definitely a struggle,” she said. Her employees worked various times of the night and day in the Modefa showroom, staying safe with social distancing while also trying to manage the magnitude of eBay sales to be sent out.
But Tara found a strong silver lining of community building even as she was rushing to fulfill orders. “Ramadan is usually a very social holiday, with people visiting and having dinner with their friends and going to the mosque together. And we couldn't do any of that this year,” Tara said. “So instead people were sending gifts to their friends, and all that work for us was worth it knowing that we were helping to make other people's Ramadan really happy and really special, especially in such a difficult year.”
Tara recalls one buyer in particular who spotted a best-selling prayer rug on Tara’s eBay store during Ramadan. The rug is “a really pretty bright blue with a mosque on it,” Tara described. “The shopper said it reminded her of the Blue Mosque in her father’s native Turkey, and she wanted to gift it to him — but it was sold out.”
Ultimately, Tara restocked the rug for the customer. The customer sent her a personal message, thanking her because “it was really meaningful to [her father] because of the connotation of the Blue Mosque. He was very happy to get that,” she said.
Tara loves telling stories about connections and sales like this that reach across the world — and that build on her long-held desire to boost others and create community. “We always try to help our customers and to do the right thing. And I think eBay has given us the opportunity to do that.”
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