Fatih Dağlı, a tourist guide and an entrepreneur, started Aponia in 2009 to create beautifully designed t-shirts and other products. We met with Fatih on the second floor of his shop located at the historic Hazzo Pulo passage.
SoUL: Can you tell us about your background and Aponia?
Fatih: I can tell you that Aponia is my dream job. I’ve started as a copywriter at an advertisement agency and worked there until 2002. Then decided to move into tourism. I’m a tourist guide, and I still do it in Italian and English. But tourism is seasonal; you’re busy in the summer and winters are relatively slow. So you have a lot of time to think and dream. In 2009, my best friend and I decided to realize our joint dream and launched Aponia.
SoUL: What inspired you to call it Aponia?
Fatih: I actually came up with the name. As a guide, I take groups overseas, so every time I was in Athens we talked about philosophy. And, Aponia is associated with Epicurus who said that you need two things to be happy; one is Ataraksia, which is fearlessness. And the other one is Aponia, which is not feeling pain. We liked the meaning and the association to happiness. So, we came up with our slogan that reads the Happiest local brand of Istanbul.
SoUL: It seems like graphic design is an important part of your job?
Fatih: Yes, the whole thing started with my love of design. The magic of not needing a language and communicating via forms and visual messages and being able to deliver the same message to people from all sorts of cultures and languages. We leverage this and turn it into a business. For us textile is the means and graphic design is the end.
SoUL: What made you choose this location in Hazzo Pulo?
Fatih: We wanted a central location. And as you know, when you’re in Istanbul, there is the Old City and the New City. Sultanahmet and Taksim. Sultanahmet is more traditional, and if you were after a contemporary, trendy design the logical first choice would be in the New City, namely somewhere around the Beyoğlu area. Hazzo Pulo suits us visually and location-wise. Back when we opened shop here this passage was not as popular as it is today. Nowadays, it’s a very popular location.
SoUL: Wasn’t Hazzo Pulo chosen as one of the top ten passages in the city?
Fatih: Yes, that’s right. It’s the largest one. Also the fact that you can enter it from one side and go out from the other side makes this a very interesting passage. The building dates back to 1871 but nowadays it needs a little care.
SoUL: Tell us a little about your portfolio. What do customers find at Aponia?
Fatih: We have a fresh and surprising portfolio. Discovering fresh and trendy ideas that they haven’t seen at gift shops or design shops in the Old City surprises our customers. Our brand is really about contemporary and has a message and we take this seriously.
For me a t-shirt should carry a message. I used to see t-shirts designed by big name houses but they were made just for the sake of a nice design and that would break my heart. So, when we started, we were set on delivering messages and designs on the same shirt. As an example, we always have a product on the love theme. And that’s the kind of message I’m talking about; I’m not talking about political messages or anything like that.
SoUL: Would you agree that your collection is a fusion of visual and intellectual concerns?
Fatih: Absolutely. Take our Istanbul collection for example. We started creating that recently. I worked on five different graphics for that idea. I came up with the slogan and then took it to graphics. It started with a slogan that said ‘They call it chaos we call it home’. And it was well appreciated…
SoUL: And who is your customer?
Fatih: Looking at the demographics over the last three years or so, it looks like our customer is between 25 and 45 years old. As with all the other brands, we’re actually trying to expand this band. We’re thinking about kids, as there is a lot of demand there. But for now, our customer is between 25 and 45 and comes from overseas mostly. That makes me very happy and gives me hope about the future of this brand. It means we have been able to create a contemporary design that can be understood and appreciated by a Japanese or an American.
SoUL: Do you have other products than textile?
Fatih: Yes, we do. In addition to bags, t-shirts we also focus on printed materials such as notebooks, posters, and we’re working to expand that. But still t-shirts are our number one product followed by bags.
SoUL: What are some of things you would recommend to friend to do in this neighborhood?
Fatih: If someone is looking for local and authentic they need to get into the side streets. As most of the stores on the Istiklal sell foreign goods, as the rent is high. I’d recommend the side streets between Galatasaray and Tünel. Leb-i Derya is a nice choice to have a drink and watch the view. I highly recommend Balkan Lokantası, that’s where all the local shopkeepers here eat at lunch. There is a desert place called Sakarya, their quince desert is really delicious. And of course, Mustafa Amca, who operates one of the teahouses outside, is a must.
Another restaurant close by, called Fıççın on Kallavi Street, is also great, as they serve great food, it’s not expensive and they serve alcohol. I mention that because most of the esnaf lokantası (shopkeeper’s restaurants) don’t serve alcohol in Istanbul. Then it’s not close but they should go to Mimar Sinan Teras Café right next to Süleymaniye. It has the best views in Istanbul.