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What’s so special about Turkish towels, anyway?

By: Brooke Chenoweth

It’s so easy to walk into shops in Hong Kong and buy beautiful things, but how often do you wonder where they came from, or how they were made? We sat down with Teresa Littlewood, importer of Teresa’s Turkish Towels, to learn more about the provenance of her products.

Importer Teresa Littlewood with one of the artisans who weave the Turkish towels
Importer Teresa Littlewood with one of the women who weave the Turkish towels

Accidental discovery

Teresa and her husband Tony have called Hong Kong home for many years, but on a trip back to the UK a few years ago, during a layover in Istanbul, they came across Turkish towels. Teresa says, “We were walking around the steep cobbled streets in the Karakoy quarter, and I was enjoying chatting to shop owners. My husband is Turkish and I love the country and the wonderful people and way of life. I noticed the beautiful colourful cotton towels and started bringing them back for friends.”

This gifting exercise soon turned into a business venture, when Teresa realised how much everyone loved the towels, and she began importing larger quantities to sell. “Initially, I bought the towels in Istanbul at wholesale prices, and from a beautiful place called Kas in southern Turkey. I was only able to take a box or two in the beginning and had to select from the shop so my choices were limited. After a few months, I decided to go direct to the source. Of course, with Tony being Turkish it made life a lot easier!”

The Turkish towels come in a huge array of designs and colours
The Turkish towels come in a huge array of designs and colours

Getting to the source

After breaking bread with the factory owner, Teresa and Tony were taken on a tour so they could see exactly how their towels were made. “I was blown away,” she says. “There were just so many fantastic designs and colours. We walked around to see the looms, and there were strings of cotton coming from hundreds of reels directed into the weaving machines. A design for a towel is put onto punch cards and then the machine is set up. All the tassels are made by hand – something I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it myself!”

Teresa and Tony were also fortunate to visit homes in a nearby village where ladies still make towels on smaller looms. “These towels are quite rare, and sadly the ladies that work the looms are a dying breed as the younger generation doesn’t want to weave for a living; plus, the machines are very old and getting harder to repair.”

Turkish cotton is absorbent and gets softer and fluffier the more it is washed
Turkish cotton is absorbent and gets softer and fluffier the more it is washed

Practical and versatile

So what makes Turkish towels so special? Teresa explains: “Turkish cotton is much better quality for towels than any other cotton in the world due to the length of the fibres, which makes them stronger and smoother. The towels are a flat-weave so there are no ‘loops’ like in terry towels. The cotton is very absorbent and gets softer and fluffier the more you wash it. What makes them excellent for Hong Kong is that they dry in a jiffy, making them better for the environment too. You can wash several different colours in the washing machine all together and the colours won’t run or fade.”

The towels that Teresa imports and sells are also incredibly versatile. You can use them for the bath or the beach, as sarongs or scarves, for yoga or as picnic rugs. As well as coming in a huge range of colours, the towels can be embroidered for extra personalisation. They’re sold at fairs and online, but Teresa encourages customers to visit the company’s “hidden” office. “You can see our whole collection and choose your towel with no pressure,” she says. “We’ll even make you a cup of tea!”

Find out more at hkturkish.com, or email hkturkish@harfordhk.com.

This article first appeared in the June/July edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.

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