Süleyman Ertas: Textile Designer and Salesman, Istanbul, Turkey

Deep inside Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is a small store brimming with colorful fabrics. Süleyman Ertaş sits behind the counter, smiling, wearing a knit cap and plaid shirt. He is one of the most renown figures in traditional textiles, specializing in making authentic Turkish cloths, particularly peştamals, the towels used in Turkish baths. Dr. Ertaş welcomed me into his shop and spoke just enough English to answer a few of my questions.


DJ: What is your name?

SE: Süleyman.

DJ: What do you do?

SE: I sell textiles.

DJ: How do you make your textiles?

SE: I have my own workshop in Denizili, that’s a city 630 kilometers far away from Istanbul.  Our basic articles are the traditional Turkish towels, like you see behind me, but we produce other things like bedspreads, bed sheets, runners, sold by meter. And our daily production in traditional towels is like 3,500 pieces to domestically and to foreign countries. In 26 countries I have customers. This is our family business. 152 years old.  The other part of the shop behind me is 250 years older than the Bazaar. We have 4 floors, and 500 square meters.

DJ: What’s back there?

SE: My storage. This part is for sales and the other floors for storage. But what you see here is a small part of an iceberg. My daughter has other shops in the Bazaar and a coffee shop in the oldest part of the Bazaar. I think you have to visit her. So total, we have three shops in the Bazaar and many stores outside the Bazaar. And my workshop in Denizili. My old shop, my old profession, is medicine. I am a medical doctor.

DJ: Really? Do you still practice medicine?

SE: No. After the death of my father, I only work here. As the fifth generation of the family, it’s not easy to go away. And at the moment, my children help me. One of them is my son, he has studied public relations. And my daughter, who is an environmental engineer with an MBA, has two shops in the Bazaar.

DJ: How do you make your textiles?

SE: We have three or four different looms. Some of them are real handlooms. Some of them are very old engineered looms converted from steel machine to electrical engine. One of my looms is produced in England in 1908. New engineered looms with shuttle and very sophisticated looms without shuttle are produced in Switzerland. They are very fast and very sophisticated.

DJ: Do you like working here?

SE: I don’t like. I love! Textiles are my passion, not my business.

DJ: What do you love about it?

SE: Everything! From string to finished material. I will show you something. [He reaches behind him for a book]. This book is written by the most important Turkish historian, Halil İnalcık. He is 95 years old and a teacher of teachers, professor of professors. Between 1973 and 1993 he was at the University of Chicago as manager of the history department. In 1993 he came back to Turkey. To be named one time by him is a big honor. But to be told by him in nine pages, it’s an extreme case. I’ll show you the part about me in this book. I keep copies for students who come visit me from all branches from sociology, from anthropology, from textile, from history.

DJ: Do you live in Istanbul?

SE: Yes. But my family is not from Istanbul. I am from Eastern Anatolia. But my family has lived in Istanbul and in my village for 500 years. In our place in Eastern Anatolia near the Euphrates, I have three big houses.

DJ: And you also make costumes for film?

SE: Yes, at the moment I am working for the Hobbit, but before that I hand made all the costumes for the movie Troy. Brad Pitt.

DJ: Do you make those at your factory?

SE: Yes, costumes of Brad Pitt from Crazy Doctor. My nickname is “Crazy Doctor.” [Laughs. Then he begins to give me some peştamals] This is my latest design. This will be my present for you.

DJ: No, that’s too kind!