When you walk inside the store you won’t come across the skinny Barbie dolls that girls these days play with, but instead you will find cotton-filled chubby rag dolls with fat legs, pudgy cheeks and pigtails. As you walk into the store, bumping into some of the dolls hanging from above, you look around in amazement at all the products. That is because in addition to the rag dolls there are also hundreds of accessories that have been adorned with these dolls such as hats, key chains, mirrors, combs, hair clips, necklaces, albums, sewing baskets and bookmarks. The person who keeps this rag doll tradition alive and has created a small world of rag dolls is 45-ye-ar-old Saadet Ügümü.
Ügümü is actually a civil engineer. But she quit her job 14 years ago after she gave birth to her second son, Denizhan, so that she could spend more time with her children. She began making rag dolls in her spare time, opening the door to this fairy-tale world. At first she only made a couple, but then she started making more of them and giving them to her friends and family as gifts. When her friends liked the dolls so much, they encouraged Ügümü to open up a store. And that is what she did. Now she has a store in Teşvikiye and a small shop in İstinye Park.
Ügümü’s rag dolls are unique. All except the older dolls are missing a mouth and nose. She chose not to give them an expression so that children could imagine whether the doll is crying or laughing. The only features on the doll’s chubby face are eyes made from two buttons. She said the two buttons made the doll’s face look like a button and so she named the store “Düğme,” which means button in Turkish. While Ügümü chose not to give the dolls any expression so children could use their imaginations, 90 percent of her customers are middle aged and older women. She began making the dolls for children, but now she makes them for “grown-up children.” Since her customers are adults, Ügümü has turned the rag dolls into functional accessories. Music boxes, slippers, baskets, pillows, phone holders and rings decorated with rag dolls are some of the many products at the store.
Ügümü also accepts special orders. For example, you can take a pair of shoes you bought elsewhere and ask Ügümü to decorate them with rag dolls. But Ügümü, not you, decides on the type of rag doll that will be used. She is very sensitive, or as she herself says, is kind of fussy. “My customers know that I always make special designs for them. I make the dolls reflect a special detail I see in them. But some customers want the exact doll they see. That is the only reason why I don’t have a website -- because I don’t make the same doll twice. Of course it is very easy to reproduce the same thing without putting any thought or imagination into it. But I avoid replication because I value my customers. As you can see I am not yet a full businesswoman. I do as I please. Because this is my hobby, my dream,” Ügümü says.
A few years ago Ügümü established a team of rag doll makers. But she encountered some problems because she wanted to make the final touches to the dolls. Now she continues to make the dolls of her dreams together with her assistant Yasemin Yalım. Ügümü’s eyes sparkle when she talks about Yalım, adding: “She is my right hand. We have been working together for three years. I can’t do anything without her. We share ideas during production and we move forward together. She suggests an idea, I come up with some ideas and then we say ‘why not’ and start making it. We have so much fun while making the dolls. I wish everyone could do the job they like, with the people they like.”