I founded Sabah in June 2013. I had just moved back to New York City from Istanbul, where I had been living as an expat working for Microsoft since 2010. While there, I was gifted a pair of curly-toed, traditional Turkish slippers by my good friend's grandmother. Little did I know, that pair of slippers would quite literally change my life.
I wore that originally pair almost everyday and everywhere I traveled. To work, for weekend strolls in Istanbul, traveling to France and Morocco, I even wore my “genie slippers” as I lovingly called them with a tuxedo to a fancy Turkish wedding aboard the famous Savarona steamship.
When I moved back to New York City in late 2012, the soles of my slippers had started to disintegrate. The upper leather, not being of the highest quality, was also not looking great. I contacted my friend and through her family was put in touch with the maker. I didn’t know it at the time, but his family had been making this style of shoe since the late 1800s. One of the last traditional shoemakers of his kind; and the most well-reputed in Turkey.
His name was Orhan. I suggested he make me a new pair, but with a few modifications. No curly toe, no patterns across the top. I also sent him a really high quality piece of black leather, with a natural grain appearance, and finally asked him to add a rubber sole to the bottom of the shoe for better grip and durability. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was creating the first pair of Sabahs.
A few weeks later, this "special pair" arrived to my office on 57th street. I was working in finance. They fit like a glove. I loved the new look too. I immediately requested a pair in navy and red. These became my new favorite shoes. I gifted a few to friends. It was Spring 2013. Restless in my job, I decided this could become a business. So I wrote Orhan requesting that he make me 200 pairs in a variety of colors and sizes. I had a local friend source the colorful leathers as most of the traditional shoes were just made in black, red and yellow. And I asked him to stamp the word “Sabah” on the inner sole. I sent him a simple design. The word “Sabah” means “morning” in Turkish. I just liked the word and I love the morning.
They arrived almost two months later in a few boxes (it was a mess, see above) to my home on 12th street, what became and still is Sabah House East Village, our first store. To sell these first Sabahs, I did one of the things I do best - I hosted a party. I opened my home (the same little townhouse in the East Village on 12th street where we still sell Sabahs today) and I invited just about everyone I’d ever met. Come over, have some drinks, hang… and by the way - I am selling shoes too. They’re called Sabahs.
And that was how Sabah was born.
The origin story of Sabah has continued to be the core of our business. We still make every single pair with Orhan and his family. Albeit, we’ve grown from just 5 craftsmen and 1 stitcher in a small, crumbling house in Gaziantep to being over 30 craftsmen in a brand new, cleaner, healthier facility just a couple blocks away. We’ve continued to improve our design, quality of materials, fit and processes to create our own original shoe, the Sabah, while still adhering to his family’s traditional shoe making techniques and materials that make the shoes so great. Every pair is still made entirely by hand, from A to Z, using high quality, locally sourced leathers. And we still sell every pair direct to our customers, one pair at a time, and mostly in-person from one of our five Sabah Houses, on the road at our non-stop traveling events, and, now, via an online website we call the “Sabah Portal.”
We’re mostly focused on building a business that will last and continue to build and give stability to our workshop in Turkey and our team here in the US. We have taken a long term view. And we want to do this mostly in two ways: (1) by providing the highest quality product, produced with integrity of process & materials and (2) by serving our customers exceptionally, personally, directly and honestly. And our secondary goal is simply to bring good energy and smiles to the world, from our craftsmen to our employees to our customers, by doing what we do.
Thanks for listening. I hope you Sabah soon and Sabah well.