Who: Molly Pittman
Location: New Orleans, LA
Expertise: Turkish textiles
Shop: Loomed NOLA
The Story: After living in and paying many visits to Turkey, Molly Pittman is an expert on navigating the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and finding authentic, Turkish-made treasures. Loomed NOLA, the store she co-owns with her fiancé, Paul Babineaux, in New Orleans, is a testament to that expertise as well as her keen eye for quality. Loomed’s gorgeous products—they carry pestamels (Turkish towels), blankets, hand towels, robes, and scarves—are all handwoven in the ancient Turkish tradition from fibers that meet Global Organic Textile Standards, and it shows. Working with eight of the last Turkish families to hand weave as a trade, Molly and Paul are able to deliver beautiful and functional textiles that customers will enjoy for years to come.
The Birth of Loomed: Three and a half years ago, while Molly and Paul lived in Turkey and were looking for Christmas gifts, an email from Istanbul Daily Secret—a daily digital guide to events and hidden gems in the area—tipped them off to a store in the southeastern part of the country that had great handwoven pieces. As soon as she walked in, Molly had an “overwhelming feeling that she was meant to be there.” With the Christmas gifts (as well as pieces they’d bought for themselves) an unparalleled success, Molly and Paul started to realize the opportunity that they had been given. “We knew this definitely had a place in the states,” Molly says, and she began thinking through their options for how to bring the textiles to the U.S., where she knew they would be a hit.
The Education: Textiles similar to the ones found in the store were available throughout Istanbul, but almost all of them had been produced in factories in Denizli, a city in the southwestern part of Turkey near the coast. Molly and Paul briefly considered buying from one of the factories, but Molly knew she wanted to sell handwoven goods, and she kept going back to the original store where she’d found the Christmas presents. The designs were far superior to anything else she’d seen. After receiving encouragement from Paul’s parents, and eight months before she and Paul were set to return to the U.S., Molly gathered her courage and went back to the store to try to strike a deal. Her offer to buy their textiles wholesale was greeted with skepticism at first, but after hearing her story, Molly says, they told her, “Honestly, what we would really love is if you would come and work with us in the store.” Molly and Paul’s ability to communicate with English speaking customers would benefit the store owners, and in turn the Americans would learn about the weaving process and the community. Molly agreed to the proposal, and the education that she and Paul received while working with the weavers was a game-changer.
“What They do is so much more complicated than anything I could ever imagine,” Molly says. “Families have been doing this for centuries, and the sad part is, there are just a handful of people who still do it the old-fashioned way.”
The Evolution of the Grand Bazaar: The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is an expansive market that is not for the faint of heart. According to Molly, it used to be filled with workshops for craftsmen—silversmiths, coppersmiths, weavers, jewelry makers, embroiderers—with a store attached to the workshop where people could buy the goods directly from the craftsmen after seeing them work. People would go to buy household items as well as decorative pieces, but over the years, as factory production has been on the rise and the bazaar has become more of a tourist destination, these workshops have all disappeared, and this has made it harder to recognize which textiles sold are actually made in Turkey.
The Inside Scoop: We asked Molly to give us some pointers for navigating the Grand Bazaar. Here’s her expert advice:
Tip #1: Check the tags. If it says “Made in China,” obviously it wasn’t made in Turkey. But, as Molly learned, the top few pieces of a stack of merchandise can have the tags ripped out, so make sure to check the bottom pieces, too.
Tip #2: Know how to recognize a salesman. Molly can’t help but laugh when she hears stories in her shop about kind young men who were able to get her customers the most amazing deals on rugs in the Grand Bazaar. Although these men might be legitimate, be aware they are receiving a commission for whatever you buy. Often the story goes that a man approaches friends, couples, etc., at a local cafe and offers to show them a few sites. After taking a quick tour, it always comes up that his brother or friend sells carpets and he has to take them to him or her. The carpets or products may be legit but remember, this is the man’s career.
Tip #3: Do your homework. The internet is vast and great, so use it. Learn the typical value of pieces so you can avoid being duped. The salespeople will quote you a price based on where they think you’re from and how much they think you’re willing to pay, so be ready to haggle.
Tip #4: Even though the tips may make you skeptical, the Grand Bazaar is fun, so have some! Go with the flow, enjoy the people you meet, and your time will be infinitely better.
If you won’t be traveling to Turkey and becoming an expert bargainer at the Grand Bazaar or finding your way to a hidden gem like Molly and Paul did any time soon, book a trip to New Orleans to visit Loomed’s charming Garden District location or visit the Loomed website, where they sell their beautiful products online.
Loomed NOLA // New Orleans, LA // 504.304.2047