Portraits of Turkish craftsmen hang on the wall inside Sabah House Dallas. (Photo by Shayna Fontana)
Mickey Ashmore (Photo by Shayna Fontana)
Patterned pair of Sabahs (Photo by Shayna Fontana)
A craftsman works at Sabah House’s atelier in Turkey. (Photo courtesy Sabah House)
A handcrafted Sabah shoe (Photo courtesy Sabah House)
While living and working abroad for two years in Istanbul, Dallas native Mickey Ashmore received a funny-looking pair of leather slippers called Sabahs from his Turkish girlfriend’s grandmother. Despite their quirky appearance, Ashmore found them surprisingly comfortable and very well made.
“I wore them every day and everywhere I traveled — the beaches of France; nights out dancing in Beirut; work trips to Munich, Ireland, and Portugal; and hiking through Morocco,” he says. “I even polished and paired them with a tuxedo for a fancy Turkish wedding aboard the Savarona steamship.”
Ashmore’s fascination with the traditional shoe continued when he moved from Istanbul to New York City in 2012. He asked the original maker in Gaziantep, Turkey, to make him another pair, with a few design tweaks — nicer leather, better toe shape, replaceable rubber outsole.
Just one year later, Ashmore opened his flagship Sabah House in East Village, stocking men’s and women’s Sabahs handmade by craftsmen in Gaziantep using high-quality breathable leather and naturally tanned water buffalo soles.
“These craftsmen are trained in a disappearing skill of hand-stitched shoe construction unique to Sabah,” he says. Housed in a 150-year-old workshop, the Gaziantep atelier is 40 miles from Aleppo and employs a little more than 20 people, including four Syrian refugees who once worked in the shoe business there.
The charm of Sabahs, Ashmore says, is the subtle imperfections of the craftsmen’s work and the character of each leather hide. Initials of both the stitcher and craftsman who designed them are inside every pair.
In a 500-square-foot bungalow on Routh Street, Ashmore recently opened his second Sabah House. Colorful slippers fill a wall of wooden shelves, alongside vibrant photos of craftsmen. Each pair of Sabahs costs $190; a bales slide is $150, and a children’s variation is $65.
Ashmore travels to Turkey two or three times a year to check in with employees and their families. A fifth-generation craftsman, Mr. Dikici (Turkish for shoe stitcher), has been with Sabah House from the start and is now a master trainer, overseeing production of the footwear that devotees slip into from the office to the beach.
“We’ve outfitted a groom and his groomsmen, musicians, artists, and even an entire crew of flight attendants,” Ashmore says. “We’ve sent many a person away on vacation with only a pair of Sabahs. They’ve returned saying, ‘I didn’t need anything else.’”
Sabah House, 2312 Routh St., 972.863.3555.