This is part of our ongoing series, Real Talk, where we feature real folks and real convos that are important, inspiring, and true to us. One of the best parts of starting a sustainable multi-brand business is getting to meet a lot of awesome people who share the same interests that we do. Our founder hit it off with the Bedestan team right away, and it's been a match made in robe and pestemal history ever since.
Today, our founder catches up with Bedestan founder Ada Turemis on just what it is that makes pestemals so great, running a business between Turkey and Florida during a pandemic, and how our favorite linens actually get made.
Goldune: Do you have any memories or emotions that you associate with time at the hammam or a Turkish bathing ritual? I know I’ll always remember my first time visiting a hammam in Istanbul and the sounds and smells and experience, not to mention how squeaky clean I was by the time I left. It was like entering another world.
Ada: My first hammam experience that I distinctly remember was in Inebolu, a small town in the Black Sea region where my mom is from, when I was about 5-6 years old. We used to go to Inebolu every summer to see my grandparents with my aunts and cousins and there was a very old neighborhood hammam that was frequented by the local women. I went with my grandmother, my mom, sister, cousins and my aunts-- basically all the women in the family. In a traditional hammam like this one, women are completely naked and only cover themselves with a pestemal when it is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, it is complete nudity! This hammam trip was my first time seeing so many women in the nude, all so comfortable with being nude around each other. I saw women with so many different body shapes-- old women saggy boobs or women with a lot of body hair etc. And honestly, it really moved me. It moved me that women were so carefree in this communal space-- no one judged each other or tried to cover themselves in a community of women. Everyone just did their thing, relaxed, shed skin and chatted away about their lives (aka gossiped!). As a 5 year old girl who didn’t have a lot of insight about what a real woman body looked like, I was a little embarrassed yet kind of fascinated. I think it changed how I see nudity even to this day -- not something to be embarrassed of but as something that is natural, carefree and even celebratory. So the feeling I always get when I go to a hammam is female solidarity and community.
I also remember drinking a gazoz (a sweet carbonated drink, a Turkish classic) after the bath in my pestemals in the common room and loving my life.
Goldune: Who wouldn’t!
Ada: The fun part about hammams is that almost all of them are so different from each other because they are completely shaped by their community even to this day so I almost always have a different experience when I go to different ones around the city. The conversation of the bathkeeper alone makes every hammam experience unique in my opinion.
Goldune: I know you split your time between Turkey and the US-- do you bring any rituals, bathing or otherwise, home with you when you head back to the US after a long stint in Turkey? When you leave Antakya, what do you miss the most?
Ada: First of all I never travel to the US (or anywhere international, tbh) without hitting the hammam and getting a full body scrub in Istanbul, especially knowing that I wouldn't be able to have that experience for some time. I definitely do not go anywhere without my Kese mitt, olive oil soap and pestemals/robes. That is the one little piece of the hammam I can take with me anywhere in the world and helps me keep my routine in place since I go to the hammam every 4-6 months. I think small things like that really keep my ritual in place and bring me the comfort that I need wherever I am in the world. The other thing is probably my Turkish tea, I always have some with me when I travel, especially to the US.
Antakya is such a magical place-- I think what I miss the most is the people and the community they built there. When you go to a local shop, the owner always asks you to sit down with him/her, have some turkish coffee or tea and talk about anything really. Antakya is also a very diverse city where you could be talking to an old Jewish man or a young Syrian woman all on the same street so the conversation is always so interesting. Also, the food-- finest examples of Levantine and Turkish cuisine!
Goldune: What products are in your shower right now?
Ada: I have my staples like my olive oil soap for my body, Kese mitt, my wooden wide tooth comb , and my hand-knitted loofah (that makes the soap application so easy) that I got from an old lady who sells them in my neighborhood in Istanbul. Otherwise I use sulfate-free & silicone-free shampoo and conditioner from a local brand but I am not too picky about it! I definitely want to try a bar shampoo!
Goldune: What made you decide to get into the pestemal business?
Ada: I have had the idea for bedestan for some time, especially after I went to college in the US and really saw the lack of high-quality sustainable textiles that I grew up with and loved in Turkey. I started carrying my pestemals back and forth, gifting them to my American friends and just talking about them to everyone I knew because I was so passionate about it. When I moved back to Istanbul, I found myself going to the Grand Bazaar a lot and finding local weavers and asking them a lot of questions about the product and their process, mostly out of curiosity. Then I mentioned this idea to my now-partner who felt equally passionate about it, which was the beginning of putting all my time and energy into realizing the idea and bringing our pestemals to the US.
My parents traded (and to this date still collect) antique Turkish carpets and kilims when they were younger so I believe I was raised with an eye and appreciation for traditional Anatolian artisanship growing up and wanted to build something to promote that to the world.
So I think the main reason is how much I really like pestemals almost on a personal level. To me it was something worth putting all my time, effort and passion into.
Goldune: A lot of folks aren’t totally clear on the difference between a pestemal and a terry towel, and why they should pick one over the other… can you enlighten us?
Ada: Of course! A pestemal is basically a flat towel and has a different, more traditional weaving process. It is made up of long cotton fibers that open up in time and make it more absorbent and softer over time. There are a few differences between the two:
- Pestemals are traditionally made from 100% cotton and very gently dyed (all our products are), unlike terry towels, which often have synthetic fibers mixed in there and are harshly dyed. (The dye can irritate the skin-- eczema sufferer over here!-- and pollute our waterways.) They’re made responsibly too!
- One pestemal really does it all! Pestemals are really multi-functional-- they’re great as tablecloths, scarves, picnic spreads, or even as a throw.
- The wash process is also quite different: Pestemals are really fast drying and use 30% less energy to launder and dry. While terry towels get rougher over time, a Pestemal does the opposite. (Mine usually last eight years.)
Goldune: What manufacturing or weaving practices do you look for when finding manufacturers? Can you tell us a little more about how you go from a design in your mind to a pestemal in a package arriving at a Goldune customer’s house?
Ada: The most important thing I look for is the process the weavers use. I look for the weavers who use the most traditional techniques that honor the weaving tradition and only do small batch productions, like how they did centuries ago. I feel so blessed to have found my weavers in Antakya who are fifth (!!) generation weavers and do this as a part of their family tradition and take pride in it-- something that is passed down from generation to generation. I personally know all of our weavers and have been a part of our production procedure. In that way, I think staying in touch with our weavers that way is really important for us as a brand-- understanding their process and their needs to reflect their craft genuinely and transparently.
The process starts with a color in mind. We usually consult with our weavers to see what color of yarn they already have since we prefer using deadstock and surplus yarns to make sure nothing goes to waste. From these colors, I make a little drawing consulting with the weaver since they have unmatched experience and insight as to what works and what doesn’t. Then the pattern is rolled into rolls, meaning the process of laying the pattern is manual. There is no computer program that you import a design into and that automatically weaves it! This is actually the hardest and the most crucial part since if the pattern is not laid correctly, the batch will come out faulty. So the most experienced weaver usually is in charge of this process, in this case it is our Usta’s (master weaver) father who has been an Usta for over 40 years.
When the roll is ready, it is put into the handweaving shuttle looms and then starts the weaving process which always has to be operated by a weaver since the shuttles need to be manually filled again and the errors have to be fixed instantly by the weaver (again, very primitive looms). Once the process is over, they are cut into the pestemals and the ends are hand-knotted by the oldest member of the household. Then the pestemals are soaked in water for 12 hours by our Usta’s wife and line-dried in their garden so that they come pre-washed and broken in and arrive to you as absorbent as can be. Then the pestemals that will be sewn into robes are passed onto our amazing local tailor who cuts and sews them together in his house and labels them. Then the robes and pestemals are folded, packed and shipped to our US office, ready to be sent to you.
It was important to be as plastic free as we can so we do not use any plastic in the process of shipping-- all of our packaging is recycled paper/cardboard or compostable bags.
Goldune: Love it! Thank you for letting us grill you, Ada.