Who made your shoes?

Mine were made in Turkey by a fellow called Yilmaz

As someone who has actually made my own pair of shoes, I’m all about knowing where my footwear was crafted, how, and by whom. This week, I met Mickey Ashmore, the founder of shoe and accessories label Sabah, which opened its first UK store on London’s Chiltern Street at the weekend. And he and his brand really tell a story.

Sabah ‘Baba’ slippers in leopard, $190, and in sand, $170 (sabah.am)

It was when Mickey was working in Istanbul that he discovered an ancient style of Turkish slipper and fell in love. They were ideal to wear in the hot climate because they never smelt bad, and their comfort was unrivalled to anything he had worn before. But when he returned to New York, he realised that a few design tweaks, including the addition of a practical rubber sole, would make them suitable for city living, too. So he found a family of skilled craftsmen to work with in south east Turkey and Sabah was born.

Sabah blue leopard, $215, Marrakesh orange, $195, and Montecito white, $195 (sabah.am)

These traditional leather shoes are now lovingly hand-stitched in small batches by a team of over 30: many have received training in this rare skill by Sabah; some are refugees from neighbouring Syria. The slipper-style shoes are beautiful quality – the brand is investing in natural vegetable tanned leather techniques and every pair is unique. They are built to last and to be celebrated for how beautiful they become as they get older.

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Mickey outside the Chiltern Street store

In fact, Mickey speaks enthusiastically about stories his customers tell him about their shoes. Some got married in them and have worn them every day since, others have been wearing theirs for years in the Scottish Highlands and they only seem to get better with age. In the half hour that I am in the store, five people who already know the brand pop in saying “hey, we heard you were in town and we had to stop by!”. Because while you can buy Sabah online, nothing beats the experience of coming into this beautiful shop and trying some on. (Incidentally, the sizing is a little off – I went up a size)


Sabah Baba in leopard, $190 (sabah.am) [NB this style, called the Baba, has a buffalo leather sole rather than rubber]

And yes, they’re not cheap, but would you expect to get handmade shoes for a bargain? As well as sourcing top quality local leather, Sabah pays all of its craftsmen a good living wage and provides health care for them, too. In every pair, you’ll find an initial, and that stands for the person that lovingly made your shoes. My pair has a ‘Y’ for Yilmaz. You can then look up the person who made your shoes on the website to find out more about them. How cool is that?

So if you’re in the area, I highly recommend popping in to this lovely little store. Even if you don’t buy a pair of shoes, it’s worth it to admire the beautiful artwork and custom made vinyl shelves! Oh, and the vintage toucan light that Mickey re-wired himself shortly before I met him…


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