The Pestemal: practical or versatile?

By Paul Ashford
on April 08, 2013

Hamam towel sales start to pick up this time of year but because the weather has been so cold some customers frown and say it's hard to imagine something so "thin" getting you dry. But as I love saying to visitors at Smithbrook, switching to using a pestemal simply means taking on board a different way of getting dry. It's more of a poolside or gym thing, rather than that desire to envelop yourself in a big fluffy towel on a cold winter's morning. 

Every seller of hamam towels will make mention of how these lovely products also double up as a sarong, scarf or throw (and more). But to turn to the main point of this article, I want to stick my neck out and stress that what makes pestemals really work is how they are a supremely practical product. 

The latest review of our Coast Pestemal - together with a series of recent feedback comments from store visitors - got me thinking about whether a hamam towel is versatile, practical or both. Or whether this is an irrelevant distinction or whether actually it matters quite a lot in terms of how a hamam towel is used

So first up I warmly invite anyone reading this to engage in debate as to whether there is a distinction between a versatile product and a practical product. I would argue that practical is what you are really paying your money for. Why is this relevant? Because of the number of visitors who have never come across pestemals as a product, and with whom I find myself engaged in ever-enthusiastic conversation about them. Increasingly, this conversation centres on practical considerations.

For example, we have three young children and use pestemals all the time on holiday because it's less to pack. One reviewer has taken Aegean pestemals on a cruise, where it's a perfect solution to take a product which frees up luggage space and has more uses. Many customers buy these products as gifts for friends or family who are going travelling. In this context, for me the most practical consideration is how a hamam towel can be recycled extremely quickly. Use it, wash it, dry it and use it again all in a very short space of time. Great for family holidays or those travelling short on space. It's also been argued that there is a valid ecological point to this since the entire cycle is friendlier to the environment. 

Pestemals are a great product full stop. But if I say a hamam towel is practical versus a hamam towel is versatile does it make you think differently? How so? Is either of these features more or less likely to help a customer make a purchase? Our website product descriptions make mention of both, but this is a static description. When talking directly to customers in more depth, I'm convinced it's practical that counts. 

The Fast-evolving Turkish Hamam Towel

By Paul Ashford
on January 14, 2013

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.

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