When did you start your company, and what inspired you to do so?
The company was officially started in September 2012, but the idea first occurred to us in December 2011. We were living in Istanbul and looking for fun and unique Christmas gifts to send back to our families and we heard about a store selling only hand woven textiles. We fell in love with the products and the story immediately. We thought they would be perfect for the climate in the South, and in particular, perfect for New Orleans because of the story that goes along with the products.
When did you first travel to Turkey and what was it about their textiles industry that captivated intrigued you?
We decided we needed some adventure, so we quit our jobs and moved to Turkey in August 2011. Molly had visited before, but Paul had not.
Turkey is very famous for their textiles – they invented the technology and looms to weave plush towels, hence the popularity of the term “Turkish Towels”. Unfortunately, hand-weaving techniques are rapidly disappearing. Just in the last 20 years, thousands of families of artisans have left weaving because of the shift to factory production. Before this, many families had looms dug into the floor of the living room, where the mother would weave products for the home and teach the children their craft. The men were commercial weavers making carpets, towels, silks and all manners of beautiful things. Weaving has for centuries been passed down from generation to generation, and this last generation was skipped because it was seen as something no longer viable as a trade. At first, this was just a business idea, but it has transformed into a crusade of sorts to show the remaining weavers that there is still a market for their goods in the world. Our hope is that by showing that a market exists, we can attract a new generation to learn to weave and keep this art form alive.
What makes your products unique and/ or relevant particularly in the New Orleans market?
All of our textiles are hand-woven on old style shuttled looms, and everything else we carry is completely handmade. We work with natural and organic fibers that last longer and work harder than chemically treated ones, and we carry products uniquely suited to New Orleanians’ needs and tastes.
We work directly with the last nine families of weavers in Turkey using traditional Ottoman weaving techniques. Outside of these eight families, and a handful of individuals, all weaving in Turkey has been moved to factory production. Hand-woven towels are hardy, durable pieces that can last over twenty years if taken care of. We’ve even had reports of hand-woven towels lasting fifty-years plus while maintaining their plush weave and softness.
Our fibers are also a big part of our business. Our cotton is G.O.T.S. certified organic, which makes a stronger towel that will last longer and work better than chemically treated cotton towels. Our linen is spun by hand, which produces a higher quality, more durable linen thread. In fact, linen used to be the most popular fiber for household textiles (hence the term “linens”), but fell out of favor during industrialization because, unlike cotton, it is difficult to process quickly in a factory. Perhaps most unique are our silk products. We buy our silks from the last family in Turkey to complete the entire process by hand. They raise their silkworms, spin and reel thread by hand, and dye and weave on their family farm.
The pestamel, or flat woven towels, are particularly perfect for New Orleans because they are light weight, dry quickly, and inhibit mold and mildew growth because of the natural antibiotic properties of the organic cotton. Plus, New Orleans in an incredibly artistic community and has a culture that appreciates unique goods with a human element. We hope to not only provide a product, but to share the stories of our weavers, the last of a dying breed of artisans.
What is the benefit for buying your imported towels/ textiles? Is there a fair-trade/ green aspect to your business?
The products we sell are the unique product of Turkey’s centuries old weaving tradition. For example, the pestamel was created for use in the Turkish hamam (or Turkish bath). We believe that pestamels can serve many other purposes both inside and outside the home, which is why we wanted to bring them to America. For something like plush towels, which can be bought all around town, one is incredibly unlikely to find something hand woven and organic. These Turkish families possess the knowledge, craftsmanship and tools to produce something unlike anything else in the world, and we seek out that quality because we think it’s the best.
Additionally, we believe that saving a dying art form is important. The weavers are paid fairly and able to support themselves amidst a market being overtaken by factory machines – four of the eight families we work with were on the brink of bankruptcy and have been brought back from the abyss because of our patronage.
How did you start your company?
Once armed with our vision, we saved our earnings from nannying and tutoring in Istanbul to buy our first wholesale shipment, which actually arrived in America before we did! Upon returning to New Orleans, we researched and built the foundation of our business from our home. We worked to set up a showroom, organize our inventory, and book sales appointments through January 2013.
After that first holiday season, a retail space in the Rink became available and we opened our brick and mortar shop. With a fresh remodel in March 2014, the shop continues to serve as a beautiful showcase for our inventory and we hope it is an inviting space for people to relax and shop.
What inspires your work?
The beauty of the textiles initially drew us in and continues to inspire our efforts. Each piece is colorful and complex, and made by a person who pours love and energy into it. We love connecting people with beautiful, functional pieces made by a master’s hand. We enjoy hearing from folks who love and use their purchases daily. In the long term, we really hope to save this art form in Turkey. The more orders we place, the more attractive this career will be to young people, and the quality and craftsmanship will be preserved for future generations both here and there.