We had a pleasant interview with hatmaker Nida Demirbas about millinery (hatmaking), being a craftsman, and his father’s experiences in their shop in Beyazıt.
Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. First of all, can you tell us a little about yourself and your father?
My father was born in 1937 and has run this shop since 1965. When he first came to Istanbul in 1952, he worked for a while in a greengrocer. After that, he started as an apprentice in this shop in 1955 and took it over ten years later. In 1970, he became the president of Kasketçiler Odası (Chamber of Milliner’s). At that time, only my father sewed his hats to the two important companies in the market. Because his job was neat and clean, he was usually the first choice.
My father wakes up at 06:00 in the morning, opens the shop at 07:00 and leaves at 21:00. Even though he could not work actively in the shop due to his age, he continued his routine for the last 4 years, even on Sundays.
Only my father uses the machine. Any machine other than the machine my father used cannot make 8 corner top button models. I actually know more about this artisanship than you might think. I can control all processes from A to Z. I started to take over the shop because my father is getting too old now.
How did you get involved in this field?
I was 7 years old when I started learning. When I was in elementary school, according to the hours of my classes, I would come to the workshop either in the morning or in the evening. I learned by doing, by apprenticeship. By the time I was 15, I was a fully-equipped mechanic. Since then, I have full knowledge of the process, from A to Z.
Although I have taken a detour from this profession for a period of time, it is not possible to forget about this craft. I’ve always come back. These days my dad doesn’t come to the shop very often. So now that my father’s not here anymore, we’ll see where life leads us. (Laughs)
How would you describe this field?
Hatmaking is a difficult craft, not everyone can learn it. Sometimes you need to iron, even in the heat of summer. Only learning the machine is not enough either. You have to have people working with you, you have to have a good team. The Master should know everything from A to Z, but there should still be foremen and workers. The Master must be able to handle handicrafts and must master different techniques.
How do you describe the master-apprentice relationship?
I learned hatmaking here, with my father. I couldn’t actually live my childhood when my father brought me to the shop to learn this job at an early age. My father was a bit too attached to his traditions and the old-fashioned way. Because of how he raised me, I can say that I am a little too hard-working, like him.
What can you say about the progress of your field?
The old masters are now at the top of their craft. But traditionally, there is not much left to it. In fact, you shouldn’t be afraid of innovations to grow a little.
And now everyone’s going for the easy way. Working with an apprentice in the shop is too difficult. The apprentices are no longer as they used to be. Traditional crafts are no longer fun for them. People are looking at the money rather than the work of art.
The people who work here with us are not young, they have been doing this for a long time or they retired and came to learn this job. More young people need to be involved in this.
This profession is actually dying. There are larger workshops, for example, places where they produce 10,000 – 20,000 hats per day. What we do is like sitting and chilling, compared to them.
Do you think the profession of hatmaking can be combined with new design disciplines?
Of course. Many different models can be made, different designs can be studied. Innovations can be made outside of the traditional Turkish cap models. However, your shop must also be suitable for such things.
Are there other hatmakers like you?
Of course, there are. There are masters in the market who can do the models we do. Some of them went with the same models, some of them turned to new ones. They also know all processes from A to Z.
When did you say “I’ve become a master now.”
I started to trust myself in this profession after 2005. I want to continue this profession. Because we are trying to continue my father’s shop. In fact, this is entirely based on experience. After a certain point, the products you produce are of a certain standard. Then you say it happened.
What do you need to produce quality hats?
First of all, you have to use quality material as in every other job. If you’ve used good material in the hat and you’re good in the business, then you’ll be successful. The material, along with your mastery skills, becomes a very valuable thing. You have responsibilities to your customers. Customers who are accustomed to us are looking for these quality standards.
If you buy classic hats from market goods, you compromise on quality, you will agree to it. However, our materials and techniques are much more valuable than fabrication.
Is there a certain age to learn your art?
It’s best to learn when you’re young. For example, a 60-year-old cannot learn how to use the machine. They can only do simple things. Therefore, it is best to learn this work when you are young.
How do your customers reach you?
There are people on the website, there are those who come directly to the workshop. My father has been here since 1965, they know it.
What would you like to say when you evaluate Istanbul within the framework of your art?
All the hat companies have been here for years. Since the center of production is Istanbul, the return of our work is also useful.
This has been a lovely interview. Thank you for your time.