Tucked away in the alleyways of Beyoğlu, two brothers, Erhan and Erdal Aydın, work tirelessly to design and create objects from their brilliant imaginations in the form of leather cowboy boots. In the discreet corner workshop, both typical and unique styles of cowboy boots line the walls, with room only for pictures of family adventures and autographed movie posters to peek through.
Erhan Aydın (L) and Erdal Aydın
The Aydın brothers are quite possibly the most skilled bootmakers of their time, working in the trade for over 35 years. They grew up in the shoemaking workshops of Beyazıt - a district just south of the Grand Bazaar - and started getting their hands dirty at the young age of 10. Their father was a shoemaker whose master skill involved stitching the parts of a shoe together. The brothers have their own respective skills as well: Erdal shapes and adheres the sole and everything associated with the bottom of the boot, while Erhan specializes in the top of the shoe, the leather and detail work.
The brothers became their father's apprentices when they were in their teens, and studied the art of shoemaking for 25 years before opening their own shop in Beyoğlu. Growing up in the shoemaking business allowed them to excel in the sector, widely recognized as the best boot makers in Turkey. But Erhan and Erdal don't stand out solely for their experience and skill. The brothers have invented their own niche in the market of Turkish fashion: handcrafted unique and high-quality cowboy boots.The inspiration for their boots comes solely from their own imaginations. "Before I go to sleep at night, I dream of what I can make," says Erhan, as he steps away from his conversation with a friend, sipping tea during a break on Friday evening. The brothers work for about 10 hours each day, opening the shop in the early hours of the morning and closing as late as 11 p.m.
Typically it takes one week to make a pair of boots, but if the style requires a special type of leather, it takes as much as two weeks for a unique pair to take shape. Erhan and Erdal have an inventory of their past productions which they sell out of their Beyoğlu shop and online, and they take custom orders. As Erdal worked on the sole of a custom-made pair of turquoise leather and snakeskin boots, Erhan showed me a pair of 1950s-style black and white sneakers which they are working on for a television commercial.
The brothers designed and produced boots for popular Turkish films over many years. Cem Yılmaz's film "Yahşi Batı" brought the boots to life by presenting a comedic adventure of two Ottoman cowboys tasked with delivering a gift of diamonds to America. Most recently they designed not just the boots, but also leather accessories such as saddlebags and canteen containers, for a film representing the Gallipoli war.
After the film industry, the majority of their customers are motorcyclists. They have made over 1,500 pairs of boots for several groups of motorcycle enthusiasts in Turkey. They also specialize in motorcycling accessories: bags, hats, belts, spurs and chains.
The brothers' handmade boots are reasonably priced, considering the labor and attention to detail that goes into crafting a single pair. Their main supplier of leather is Italy, while India is the primary supplier of snakeskin. Often these boots display a tasteful design including both. Rarely, for a custom pair, they'll acquire baby crocodile leather, but prefer working with the highly valuable ostrich leather. The prices on a pair of the brothers' boots range from TL 550 to TL 800 TL, which is hard to believe when similar styles in Turkey and abroad are as high as TL 2,000.
Although you may be able to find a pair of boots comparable in style, the passion in their process will likely not compare to Erdal and Erhan's creations. Erdal says, "Even when hardships surface, we still don't mind doing the work that we do. We simply love what we do and don't see the negative."
"The best part of our job is the atmosphere we've created that we now work in," says Erhan. "We have no stress about monetary or corporate issues, and we often make friends with our customers." A friend was there to vouch for this and shouted from the back room, "We became friends over a pair of boots and have stayed friends for 30 years."
The rough and smoky studio where they work might turn you off at first glance, but as soon as you have a chance to meet the brothers, your mind will be changed. Erhan's shy smile and Erdal's calm and cool energy will make you feel welcome. Visit Sofistic Covboy Çizme at Hüseyin Ağa Mahallesi in Beyoğlu, or order online at westernturkey.com.