Customary handmade shoes are relics of the past. For quite a long time, they were the regular shoes for people throughout Turkey, India, and Morocco. However, this old-world footwear bowed to the craze and sheer abundance of mass-produced sneakers.
Thus far, a certain Turkish slipper is making a comeback in a modern silhouette and under a new name: Sabah. These slip-on shoes are still handcrafted in Turkey by Turkish cobblers, who utilize the same materials and construction methods as their ancestors.
Mickey Ashmore is mastermind (also known as “The Sabah Dealer’) is the mastermind behind the brand. He’s a Texas-born Wharton graduate who sidetracked from a career in finance after realizing that his part-time project of commissioning leather shoes from Turkish was doing far too great to neglect.
In an era of anonymous online shopping and cheap throwaway couture, Ashmore has brought up a lifestyle brand that embraces the art of craftsmanship and the classical intimacy between buyer and seller.
While the brand is growing fast, Ashmore still prioritizes face-to-face interaction and services for his customers, with most of his clients stopping by Sabah House “IRL” to order a pair.
The Cobbler Behind Sabah Shoes
As the fame for classical Turkish slippers faded, so did the need for their makers. But the good news is that Sabah is giving traditional Turkish shoemaking a new life- though with a slightly different slipper. The sheer number of Sabah cobblers is now hitting double digits, which are not all the same.
More experienced, veteran shoemakers can make as much as 20 shoes in a day, while less experienced cobblers make half that. Also, most are showing others the art of Turkish shoemaking so they can become cobblers. Below are the three cobblers, all whom Ashmore has grown close with.
Huseyin is a veteran cobbler in Sabah and has been in the shoe business for over 30 years. He does all the lasting and the tacking of the shoes, as well as the preparation of getting the products from pieces of cut leather to something that’s ready to sew.
Ali performs all the stitching on Sabah’s shoes. According to Ashmore (Dealer of Sabah), everyone who has a pair of Sabah’s has heard about Ali. “We talk a lot about the craftsmen and about the process and Ali and his smiling face is a huge part of that”.
The fact that stitching a Sabah is an art form means that one continuous string holds the whole shoe together. According to Ashmore, Cem takes an awl, pokes a hole, and then threads the entire sole using two needles.
Cem is a fifth-generation shoe stitcher. His last name is Dikici, which is a Turkish word for “stitcher”, (or a shoe stitcher in this case). He’s said to be a true craftsman of this art, and he’s also taking on the role of training younger folks.
Sabah Shoes Construction
While Sabahs are completely crafted by cobblers, the brand can only provide so many shoes by hand per day. They use one continuous wax-cotton string and then hand thread it through the shoe’s leather from the inside out. It is a process of taking a needle in and out of a shoe, without any aid of machinery or pre-punched holes.
It sounds like a tedious process that’s much more involving than producing a typical pair of espadrilles, which are sewn from the bottom up or on the outside with a machine. Conversely, when Sabah cobblers are finished, they mark the inside of each Sabah with their hand-written initials.
According to Ashmore, shoemakers in Maine, Spain, Leon, and other places where sewing and stitching are done by hand have not seen anything like a Sabah before. The brand does not just offer Turkish craftsmanship to other parts of the world, it also brings people an excellent experience that feels agreeably old school. “You shouldn’t do a lot of thinking about the shoes”, says Ashmore. “You just put them on and go”.
Other reasons also make Sabah shoes unique. Ashmore says that these shoes should never smell, which is evidence of the quality of materials they use.
Each Sabah is crafted entirely of high-quality, naturally processed cowhide, meaning they won’t mold. The shoes are not waterproof, but getting them wet won’t compromise their integrity.
They are versatile regular shoes that are meant to be worn. In fact, the word “Sabah” means “morning” , the point being that you put them in the morning and never take them off.
Men’s vs Women’s Sabah Shoes
Sabah started off producing men’s shoes, but following the success of Sabah Sundays, an ever-increasing number of women began trying on and buying the smaller men’s sizes- that’s when they developed women’s shoes. It is the exact same silhouette, though it’s a thinner shoe with a pointier toe. It also has a little different vamp, making it overall feminine footwear. Today, women make around 80% of the Sabah business.
In addition to knowing Ashmore or snagging a free beer, it’s important to practically try on several Sabahs considering no two are exactly alike. They are all carefully handmade with leathers from different parts of the animal, thus some pairs are likely to be different than others.
Another thing that affects sizing is the shoes’ finish. Subject to the style of Sabahs, they can be finished in straight leather Nubuck, suede, wax, or go unfinished.
Ashmore suggests that unless you’re after a specific color, choose the shoes that fit snug. After wearing them for a few days, the leather will naturally open up allowing the Sabahs to mold your feet.
Coming down to durability- similar to all high-quality leather items- Sabah ages beautifully. Perhaps the only parts you might want to replace are the natural rubber soles that are attached to the bottom of every pair.
Sabah’s original soles are made from water buffalo leather, which won’t weaken easily. However, the leather-lined outsole glued at the bottom of the shoe to ensure grip will deteriorate and eventually call for a replacement. The good news is that any cobbler in the world can remove and replace the sole at a low budget cost.
The Bottom Line
To sum up, the story of Sabah- how Ashmore is carving a business and meeting new friends, all over footwear- might sound quite precious. But the truth is the brand is offering something completely unique to the modern shoe market. They are making hundreds of Sabahs every month, constantly adding new colors, improving materials, and have so far shipped to almost 40 countries worldwide. The only catch, of course, is that Sabahs are never going to be mass-produced since they are meticulously made by hand. However, this also adds to their allure.