Founded in 2013 in New York City by Mickey Ashmore, Sabah is a simple footwear brand with Turkish roots. While working in Istanbul, Ashmore was gifted a pair of traditional leather slippers, which were Turkish by nature but not a part of the modern wardrobe. He wore them non-stop, earning compliments from both friends in the US and Turkish natives. His obsession led to Sabah.
Since 2013, the original Sabah, a heeled leather slip-on shoe, and Sabah's Baba, a backless slip-on leather shoe, have been made in Gaziantep, Turkey, at one of two workshops. (They outgrew the first one.) But now, as of April 2022, Sabah has a factory stateside, too, in El Paso, Texas. It's home to 12 workers, which is less than a fifth of the total number in Turkey's workshop: 70. Ashmore wants them to be equals, though.
"We searched far & low for our second home with a focus on wanting to manufacture in America, close to our largest customer base and Sabah HQ. We decided on El Paso, for many reasons, and because we found it shared many of the same characteristics as Gaziantep, Turkey where our original Sabah workshop is located," he says. "We wanted the new Sabah workshop to complement our amazing craftspeople in Turkey, for there to be dialogue, sharing of ideas, and a fusion of skills, crafts and talents."
The El Paso workshop will be an incubator and a laboratory, too, where Sabah can test new materials, experiment with new silhouettes and custom-make limited edition designs in small batches. The first such experiment, the El Paso Baba, dropped this summer, becoming the first US-made Sabah shoe in the company's nearly-10-year history.
Made from a limited edition un-dyed vegetable tanned leather, the El Paso Baba not only carries on a storied shoemaking tradition but supports a fading manufacturing hub, too. Even though vegetable tanning is waning in popularity, Sabah still does it, because of the way it makes the leather look and feel — and the way it helps it age more gracefully with time. The brand also adheres to old-age manufacturing standards — a lock-stitched construction, for example, is a stronger, and less frequently followed, way of stitching a shoe together, but Sabah prefers it for both of its styles. El Paso, Texas, on the other hand, is a town full of talented leather workers.
"El Paso, like Gaziantep, is a border town with a history of trade, craftsmanship and cultural exchange," Ashmore says. "Amongst many things, El Paso has a rich history crafting leather goods and cowboy boots. Making a cowboy boot by hand employs many of the same techniques and skills required to produce Sabahs and Babas."
Before ordering, though, it's important to note that the El Paso Babas do run a little differently. They run from size M38 through M49: M38 (6-6.5), M39 (7-7.5), M40 (8-8.5), M41 (9-9.5), M42 (10-10.5), M43 (11-11.5), M44 (12), M45 (12.5), M46 (13-13.5) and so on and so forth.