Erin: What are you curious about?
Erdem: I'm curious about so many things, but to be honest, for some years I'm so curious about what people really like and why they like it. I'm also very curious about design and materials and about all the interactions between these two.
After these long ‘thinking’ periods, I start implementing these ideas and sketches into my digital world and create digital engineering files. Then I start cutting, sometimes machine sewing, but mostly hand sewing, hole punching, sanding edges, hand painting edges, sanding again, painting again and assembling until all is perfect. It's a long and exciting process starting with every new development. And each new order means changing and optimizing some things. Usually one thing at a time.
The total success ot the product is mostly based on choosing the right material and treating it correctly. I basically use the same veg tanned leather as my main material and some other fabrics inside products when I feel they're really necessary. And a few quality and simple hardware.
For my work, the important thing is to employ the best choice available. If a machine can do it better than my hands, it's OK, I have no problem with that. But if not, I better employ my hands. I make a lot of trimming, hand-sewing work, lining work, edge painting work. I spent a lot of time in every single product because I don't want to make ordinary goods. I'm always looking for an unusual level of quality.
Erin: You previously had a career as an air and space engineer in Istanbul. How and why did you make the shift into handmade leather goods?
Erdem: Well, first of all I see no difference between making a supersonic jet or making a well thought out wallet or writing a beautiful song.All these things make people happy if you make it properly, and we all know what happens otherwise.
I had a career lasting for 8 years, after all I had a tough time because of stress due to personal disagreements in my full-time job. I used to be a design/development chief in a big company hiring more than 800 people. I was always thinking about making something on my own with less stress and much more enjoy.
At some point, I decided I should quit my job and make things on my own. I believe you can’t make anything useful for anyone if you are not truly happy. I’ve seen so many examples of this phenomenon during my life. And I was almost sure it was not possible to be happy form me in that kind of corporate big companies, it’s not suitable for everybody.
Since my childhood, I loved the idea of having a workshop and making things. Actually what I’m doing now is the very oldest project of mine.
Erin: How did your journey take you to Brooklyn?
Erdem: After we decided to move to USA we were looking at the map with my wife to figure out where to go.
I already had a few friends living in Brooklyn and New York(Manhattan).
We had a short meeting with one of those friends in İstanbul when she was having a vacation there, and she convinced us that we should be living in Brooklyn to be able to share this creative environment. Now I know what she was actually talking about.
I had some doubts at first while everybody told us that New York is a tough and tricky place, but after being informed about the home-made ice cream shops, I was all set.
Erin: You use air and space software to develop templates for your designs, but all the rest is handmade. Tell us about the 160 individually hand punched holes and all the thought out details that go into these beauties.
Erdem: Yes, I always have the feeling that I must go out of my way to make things better and unique as possible. So I try to use almost all the skills I adopted during doing engineering work.
So I'm making wallets with some quite different methods than regular procedure. For example in each product, you'll see different layers with different thicknesses.
I use the best method available to precisely thin down the different parts to correct thicknesses. The main point is I always look for the best method to do something even if it takes much more time than regular ways.
I employ a particular hand stitching method, in one of my wallets I make 160 punch holes. And if I make any mistake, I know that at the end I'll not be able to assemble the products, because they'll not match and fit. And this is why I use hi-end aerospace software, I don't want to make any mistakes, while any mistakes means the whole thing and the effort is going to the rubbish box.
Erin: Your leather quality is beautiful. How do you source it?
Erdem: Thanks! I use a vegetable tanned leather which is produced in İstanbul by a family, who are making the same durable product for three generations. It's a reliable product that has proved it's quality in many years' use by the best leather brands there.
After I moved to the US, I started for searching a domestic leather too, and still searching for it. Getting samples and trying and all. I feel like US is big enough to find what I look for.
Erin: What is it that drove you start hand making wallets?
Erdem: I don't really know exactly, it was a long search for like 2 years. I knew that I wanted to make something employing some traditional materials.
After lots of searching, talking with other makers, talking to friends and etc. I ended up with the idea of making wallets and bags of leather, carry goods actually. I'll be making some other stuff soon also.
Erin: You work out of large shop in Red Hook full of creatives of various disciplines. How important is this local community of makers to your own work?
Erdem: From my point, this is the best part of Brooklyn. It's perfect being with other people who has similar destinations. There are lots of interactions, collaborative projects and all. Sharing ideas, sharing sources, even sharing methods.It's so nice and so important. At this time I think it changes the whole experience of making things and starting up a business.