Treat Yourself To A Little Turkish Delight From Derin
By Andrea Pyros
As eclectic and increasingly diverse as the Rural Intelligence area is, it’s still unusual to find locals who found their way here — in this case, Red Hook — from Turkey. That, however, is the story of Sara Sharpless and Ersan Abit, the husband and wife co-owners of Derin, a wholesale and retail business that sells luxury Turkish bath towels and richly patterned bags and coordinating accessories.
Sara grew up in Westchester, Ersan in Turkey, but the couple met in Manhattan when both were graduate students. “He was a waiter at my favorite little restaurant, and we were friends. He finally had the nerve to ask me out, and the rest, we say, is history,” she says. After marrying in 2000, the couple moved to Ersan’s native Istanbul and stayed there for a few years. When they returned to the States in 2002, they stumbled into what would become their business and passion, Derin (named after their son).
“We brought these beautiful bags back from Turkey — we call them ‘carpet bags’ because the fabric looks like a carpet — and we thought they were really neat, so we took them to fairs and sold them, one by one. We only had a handful so we had Ersan’s father send us more, and we quickly realized people loved them as much as we did.”
Excited by their initial success, the couple returned to Turkey to develop their own line of fabrics, picking and choosing colors and prints with the goal of making Derin a line with an Eastern influence that could appeal to the U.S. market.
They also found three master tailors in Istanbul who were part of a long tradition of the bag-making craft in Turkey, who now work exclusively for Derin.
Even if you’re not in the market for a fabric bag, you can’t help but be captivated by the designs, swirls of colors and coordinating borders that conjure visions of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, where Ersan’s grandfather worked as a merchant for 70 years. The sizes, shapes and functions of all the bags and accessories, though — overnighters, backpacks, jewelry rolls, an iPad sleeve, among a long list of others — are thoroughly circa 2014. Prices range from under $10 to $112.
Yoga mat bag
Initially, Derin was exclusively wholesale (the line is sold in more than 30 states and in Canada), and then Sara and Ersan put their retail business online, finally opening their Red Hook doors to the public about five years ago. Along with expanding how customers can find their products, they’ve branched out the store’s offerings with a popular jewelry line, Derya (named for their daughter), and Turkish bath towels and olive oil-based bath products.
Their ticking-striped Turkish bath towels ($34 each) are made from high quality cotton, not terrycloth. The couple had been using them in their own home, and realized their customers would appreciate them, too. “We thought we’d just sell them retail, but we’ve had such a great response so we’ve begun selling them wholesale as well.” The towels, extremely soft to begin with, only get softer and more absorbent the more they’re used and washed. By January, expect Derin to begin carrying their brand-new line of beach ponchos made with the same fabric — all milled and sewn in Turkey.
When the economic slump hit small businesses like theirs, they felt they needed to expand. “Ersan was searching for something different that could have a nice synergy with our existing product, and he found a pewter jewelry line, and we’ve also brought in hand-painted copper, both made in Istanbul,” Sara says. The jewelry line, which includes lead-free, silver-plated pewter, runs from $17.50 to $75.
The one item not from Turkey is Derin’s newest offerings: olive oil based body butters, soaps and lip balms that Sarah makes herself by hand. “I love being creative and the soap making is really fun. They are all little works of art. I’ve been using all the products and it’s amazing how much better my skin is. I use only high quality ingredients and that makes a difference. I know that I’m doing something that is good for myself and I love providing that for my customers, too.”
Derin International, Inc.
7578 North Broadway, Suite 9
Red Hook, NY
Open Monday—Saturday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., closed Sundays