Sabahs are handmade leather shoes, created in 2013 by me, Mickey Ashmore, and produced in the Sabah workshop in southeast Turkey using a very special hand-stitched shoe construction and very high quality, natural leathers.
Sabahs are celebrated for their quality, comfort, and style. They mold to one's feet with wear becoming very comfortable, age beautifully showing a lovely patina with time, have a replaceable rubber sole to ensure they live a long life and have a unique yet sophisticated stye that is timeless and versatile.
There is really nothing else quite like Sabahs in the market; not to say they are not other great shoes! Our product is just very distinct :)
So ... how did Sabah come to be? Well, let me tell you.
My name is Mickey Ashmore. I founded Sabah in June 2013. I had just moved back to New York City from Istanbul, where I had been living as an expat working for Microsoft since 2010. While there, I was gifted a pair of traditional Turkish slippers by my then girlfriend's grandmother - not too dissimilar from the pair pictured below.
Little did I know, that pair of slippers would quite literally change my life.
I wore that original pair almost everyday and everywhere I traveled. To work, for weekend strolls in Istanbul, traveling to France and Morocco, I even wore my “genie slippers” as I lovingly called them with a tuxedo to a fancy Turkish wedding aboard the famous Savarona steamship. They were a hit and also unusual as these traditional shoes had not found their way into modern Turkish dress; very much a relic of the past.
When I moved back to New York City in late 2012, the soles of my slippers had started to disintegrate. The upper leather, not being of the highest quality, was also not looking great. I contacted my friend and through her family learned more about the origin of the slippers I had come to love. And then I found the best maker of these shoes in Turkey, residing in a town I had never been to: Gaziantep -- in the southeast of Turkey along the Syrian border.
I didn’t know it at the time, but his family had been making this style of shoe since the late 1800s. One of the last traditional shoemakers of his kind; and the most well-reputed in Turkey. His name was Orhan.
Through WhatsApp, I suggested he make me a new pair, but with a few modifications. No curly toe, no patterns across the top. I also sent him a really high quality piece of black leather with a beautiful texture and finally asked him to add a rubber sole to the bottom of the shoe for better grip and durability. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was creating the first pair of Sabahs.
A few weeks later, this "special pair" arrived to my office on 57th street. I was working in finance. They fit like a glove. I loved the new look too. I immediately requested a pair in navy and red. These became my new favorite shoes. I gifted a few pairs to friends.
It was now Spring 2013. Restless in my job, I decided this could become a business. So I wrote Orhan requesting that he make me 200 pairs in a variety of colors and sizes. I had a local friend source the colorful leathers. And I asked Orhan to stamp the word “Sabah” on the inner sole. I sent him a simple design. The word “Sabah” means “morning” in Turkish. I just liked the word and I love the morning.
They arrived almost two months later in a few boxes (it was a mess, see above) to my home on 12th street, what became and was for five years Sabah House East Village, our first store. To sell these first Sabahs, I did one of the things I do best - I threw a party. I opened my home and invited just about everyone I’d ever met. Come over, have some drinks, hang… and by the way - I am selling shoes too. They’re called Sabahs.
And that was how Sabah was born.
The origin story of Sabah has continued to be the core of our business. We still make every single pair with Orhan and his family. Albeit, we’ve grown from just 5 craftsmen and a couple stitchers in a small, crumbling house in Gaziantep to being over 30 craftsmen in a brand new, cleaner, healthier facility just a couple blocks away. We’ve continued to improve our design, quality of materials, fit and processes to create our own original shoe, the Sabah, while still adhering to his family’s traditional shoe making techniques and materials that make the shoes so great. Every pair is still made entirely by hand, from A to Z, using high quality, locally sourced leathers. And we still sell every pair direct to our customers, one pair at a time, and mostly in-person from one of our Sabah Houses, on the road at our traveling events, and, now, via an online website we call the “Sabah Portal.”
We’re focused on building a business that will last and continue to build and give stability to our workshop in Turkey and our team here in the US. We have taken a long term view. And we want to do this mostly in two ways: (1) by providing the highest quality product, produced with integrity of process & materials and (2) by serving our customers exceptionally, personally, directly and honestly. And our secondary goal is simply to bring good energy and smiles to the world, from our craftsmen to our employees to our customers, by doing what we do.
Thanks for listening. I hope you Sabah soon !
MORE ABOUT SABAH
Every pair of Sabahs is handmade by a team of craftsmen in the Sabah workshop in southeast Turkey. The original workshop has been in existence since 1887, the longest standing and most reputable of its kind that specializes in this unique type of shoemaking. The creation of Sabah (more on that story later), our modern interpretation of a very traditional Turkish footwear, in 2013 breathed fresh life (a renewed business) into the workshop. As a result, we've grown from just five craftsmen in 2013 to over thirty today.
We work with the most well-regarded tanneries in Turkey to produce leather proprietary to Sabah that meets quality standards and characteristics we have determined are best for Sabahs; leather that is naturally beautiful, breathes and feels wonderful on the foot and ages gracefully over time with wear to develop a nice patina. We work only with Grade A Hides, which are a by-product of food, and carefully inspect every hide to ensure it is to our quality standards. You will not find any other shoes, even if they resemble Sabahs, made using our exact leathers.
Very importantly - the insole of Sabahs is made from a naturally tanned water buffalo leather, which is a traditional leather produced in a very old-world & beautiful way (the process takes 21 days!). As a result, this sole will mold to your feet over time becoming extremely comfortable while maintaining a fresh feel and NEVER retaining odor.
In a break from tradition, we add a rubber sole to the bottom of your Sabahs to protect them. This rubber sole is replaceable by just about any cobbler— allowing the Sabah to live a long life and because products that are made to last are best for the world.
Finally, every pair is truly made by hand, initialed by the lead craftsman responsible for the specific pair’s production and produced with care and passion.
Our pricing is a direct reflection of the cost to make Sabahs, which includes paying our craftspeople a living wage and purchasing only the highest quality leather & materials from reputable suppliers, and to provide the level of service we are known for in our stores & online. We pay our craftsmen a living wage and thanks to the investments of Sabah and our belief in how a business should be run -- all of our craftsmen have healthcare, receive bonuses based on their work and have long-term job security with the potential for advancement. We also have a training program, funded by Sabah, to recruit, train and place craftsmen in new roles within our workshop. For the first time in years, excited by a renewed opportunity and sense of excitement for this craft, the sons and daughters of some of our most longstanding employees in Turkey are asking to join the business. We think that is cool. Mickey (the founder, that's me, I'm writing this) --- well, I personally know every single craftsman as I travel to Turkey 2-3 times every year.
We believe every good business is at the core about its product & service and the people who make this product and serve our customers must be well-compensated, happy and prideful about their work. This is not only right & ethical, but simply good business!