First posted May 26th 2012

The weather is brilliant so it's the perfect moment to talk about Turkish Hamam Towels (often written as "Hammam" Towels).
The actual Turkish name is Pestemals (pronounced "peshtemals"), and a dictionary defines them as a waistcloth or a loincloth - so a very traditional and simple wrap-type garment associated with the Hamam culture. But these lightweight towels are a great example of how a really traditional product has leapt over into fashion territory.
Villages in Southern Turkey have been making pestemals for literally centuries. I've read recently that villages around Denizli are the home of the Pestemal, and I'm hoping to finally explore some in a few weeks' time. I never managed it during my time at El Corte, because we were always working in the city of Denizli itself. If any mass-produced towels state "made in Turkey" there's an 80-90% probability they were made there. 
For me, pestemals are such an interesting product for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are extremely versatile. Everyone should try them on holiday one year and see whether or not they go back to a velour beach towel. Customers have even said to me "I'm going to buy this because it's so lovely. I'm not even sure what I'll use it for". (Our Coast Pestemal, for readers who might be interested).
Secondly, there is an ever-increasing variety. Start with the composition:100% cotton, cotton-linen, 100% linen, cotton-bamboo or silk blends, add the texturing or washing, throw in the size variants and the wonderfully creative designs which are being developed and this makes for a fascinating evolution of a totally timeless product.
The last reason typifies where I want to be with our young business. A lot of pestemal manufacture is still very much a cottage industry, so for example whilst terry towels are mass-produced in Denizli itself many pestemals are produced on handloom or semi-handloom machines in little "atolyes" (from the French "atelier", or "workshop") in the surrounding villages. So a producer might have a loom in a garage or an outhouse, and they are essentially working from home. The resulting pestemals are then sold through a co-operative. At the same time they are maintaining a weaving tradition (handlooms) and producing a product which has been around for hundreds of years. 
I've already had the good fortune to see how this arrangement works for myself in the context of handmade "Turkmen" carpets. We travelled to the village where a batch was being woven and were fascinated to see first hand how they were produced, knot by knot and loom by loom. So I'm enjoying developing my contacts with the weavers who are making my Pestemals. For me there's nothing like going to the source of a product - it is a fascinating and enriching experience.