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Sabah Shoes: Mickey Ashmore

6 min read

This is our first Brooklyn Chronicles, a series dedicated to introducing you to the people who inspire us, the people we love, and the people who motivate us to do what we do.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. For the full interview, please see the video clip below.

 

 

Today, we introduce you to Mickey Ashmore, founder of Sabah. Sabah designs and crafts high-end Turkish leather slippers and leather goods for a variety of occasions. With Sabah Houses in New York, San Francisco & London, goods can also be purchased online at Sabah.am 

Tell us about Sabah. How was Sabah born? What was your motivation?

Mickey:After living in Istanbul for two years, I moved back to New York and began working in finance. I would say my motivation to start Sabah was mostly independence. I wanted to live my own life and chart my own course and one way to do that was by starting my own business. I wanted an opportunity to express myself and, while living in Turkey, I had been gifted a pair of shoes that I wore all the time and loved. My friends regularly asked about them and I found myself giving them as gifts, so it occurred to me that I could build a business selling these shoes. Thus, Sabah was born.

The shoes I was gifted were made by a family that was making shoes based on a traditional style of Turkish slipper called the Yemeni shoe. They were one of a handful of families still producing them by hand, using traditional methods and leather from Turkey. The shoes come from Gaziantep, a town in the southeast of Turkey, and one of the oldest cities in the world having a continued history of leather work.

It’s impossible to be a fan of Sabah and not be drawn to the unending release of new colorways, the imagery, the Sabah houses – from where do you draw your inspiration?

Mickey: Prior to starting Sabah, one of the things I did was gather people. When I decided to start Sabah, I relied heavily upon my knack for gathering people and we started hosting parties where we sold Sabahs. We sold 40 pairs at that first party which was a big deal for me.

With the Sabah houses, it’s an interesting dynamic, and incredibly fun now that we can interact with a broader audience and still create the vibe we want. The majority of Sabah  is about people. I think we make great shoes, and I'm very passionate about them, but it really started with a love for people. When I started Sabah, I would sell the shoes out of my house, and you couldn't buy a pair without hearing the story of the shoe makers. To me, the story and history of the craft was always more interesting than the shoes themselves.

"To me, the story and history of the craft was always more interesting than the shoes themselves."

The houses give us a place to meet and connect with people. Today, we say our store is a modern-day Caravanserai, which was a concept along the Silk Road where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey. These stops served as makeshift trading grounds for commerce and stories. If you look at our houses, they are filled with seating for anybody seeking respite. We’ve tried to create a place that's both generous and hospitable. I am moved by hospitality and service and I think commerce, when it's done with a lot of care, energy, and attention to detail, and customers not being treated like a transaction, but rather a relationship, it's quite uplifting. The world has lost a lot of that in the way commerce is currently being done. Venture capital has created a highly matrixed scenario for commerce, and I feel that it’s lost a lot of its soul. So, one of the things I'm inspired by is bringing the soul back to commerce.  

"So, one of the things I'm inspired by is bringing the soul back to commerce."

We have always been drawn to the fact that our brands are similar in that we want to take people there – wherever they’re going so if they’re walking, it would be their Sabahs or if they’re pedaling, it might be their Brooklyn (of course wearing Sabahs). What does that mean to you that your shoes have been there for so many pivotal moments in people’s lives – I’ve seen photos of Sabahs being worn at weddings, travelling the world, first babies, first day of work, etc. You are literally there with them at these profound moments, Mickey. How does that make you feel?

Mickey: It's an honor for us. It's meaningful and it's fun to have people share those stories. When people buy their Sabahs, they initially fit snug, but over time, they form to their feet. They truly become a part of them, almost like a second skin. So that's a significant thing to be able to participate in someone's life at such a level. For me, what's most important is that Sabahs are for everyone and they're for all types of situations, and people get a lot of value out of them. It’s important when you create a business to create value rather than just extract value. I mean, with what you do when someone buys one of your bikes, you're creating a lot of value for their life. Of course, you're getting something in return as a business, but you're selling something, something that really uplifts their life and makes it better. I like to think Sabahs do the same and that people get more value than we take from them. And I think that's what creates a great business.

"Sabahs are for everyone and they're for all types of situations"

If you think back and were able to have a conversation with Mickey in 2010, what would you share?

Mickey: I would say three things. First, trust yourself and believe, and lean into your values. Early on, you get very caught up. Everybody's asking you, how are you going to scale? What's your vision? What are your goals? I used to get very intimidated by these questions, but I eventually learned that I don’t even need or have an answer. To me, it has always been about holding true to your values and letting the rest takes care of itself.

The second thing is take it slow. Don't get caught up in the race. Really, take it slow.

And the third piece of advice, very practical, is to keep great books. You can keep very tight books and really understand your business from many perspectives. It’s also much more enjoyable to run a business when you're measuring, and you really understanding your metrics to the point that it puts a little competition in it.

Obviously, we are a bike brand and I do see bikes making appearances in your Instagram feed. Any thoughts on a person living or dead that you’d love to go on a ride with? And part two, I know you ride our Driggs, can you share a bit about what drew you to this specific model?

Mickey: There can be many answers but I'm going to route my answer in business. I would go on a ride with Hamdi Ulukaya, who founded Chobani. I met him once briefly, and I've heard him speak a few times, and I find him very inspiring. I really like the way he's built his business and I have a lot of questions I'd ask, and a bike ride would make for a very captive audience.

To the second part of your question, I ride your Driggs because I love the double top tube look. It's classic. When I ride, people always stop me and ask me about it. With the army green color, it's just a special color. Also, I don't mind spending money on things, but I always like to get value. And your bikes are the perfect combination of quality for value. It’s kind of what we talked about earlier, where you're definitely getting more out of it than you're paying for it. And I think that that's a really awesome thing. Excellent. I also ride my bike in lots of different ways. One time I rode from my house all the way to Shelter Island and back. I ride it around the city. I've ridden it across Long Island from Mattituck to Montauk, 55 miles in one day. And I've never I've never had an issue with it. I've never even had any maintenance done. Perhaps I should.

Of Note: For those of you wondering, Mickey handily beat Ryan at backgammon.


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