Small talk, often an overlooked and undervalued skill, is a great way to get to know someone. Join us in conversation with Mickey Ashmore, founder of Sabahs, to chat about everything from launching his shoe company to ideas about athleisure and everything in between.
It seems the story goes something like this. You were working in finance and went to Turkey on a leisure trip to see family and friends, came across the traditional Turkish slipper, and had an epiphany on how to revise them for the modern man and women?
Almost. I actually lived and worked in Istanbul for Microsoft for two years. While there, I dated a girl from the region where we make Sabahs. Her family gifted me a traditional pair of Turkish slippers, a type of shoe long lost on modern Turkish culture. I loved them and wore them everywhere - from the beach to work, from weekend trips to a wedding. A year later, back in New York City, I contacted the original maker, whose family had been in the shoe business since the late 1800s. I asked him to make me a new pair, but proposed some changes, like a more modern silhouette, rubber on the sole and a better quality of leather. From there, the Sabah was born.
I love casual shoes more than most. In fact, I even wrote a post about them (“Kicks”). But for people who aren’t as into shoes, why they should try out Sabahs?
Sabahs are unlike anything else you have in your closet. They’re different quite literally in how they’re made, the materials we use, and in how they function and can be worn. They’re unique and subtly cool, but also incredibly comfortable and versatile. They can be worn anywhere and are super high quality. Our customers live in their Sabahs.
There are many consumer brands out there that have taken a high growth approach by accepting outside capital and trying to build their revenue as fast as possible. It seems that Sabah has taken a different approach with your personal brand woven into the fabric of the Sabah story. How do you view your success to date and your thoughts on going forward?
Sabah was born from my passion for Turkey, travel, and getting to know people in a personal way. Our business model is simple: sell direct, be personal and engaged, offline before online, operate independently, and think about the longer term. The business has been “self-funded”. I hustled it into existence. It’s been very raw and transparent from day one. Our customers have been part of the building process with us. It’s been organic. Each pair of Sabahs is unique and each customer interaction is unique as well. One pair at a time. That’s how we plan to continue.
I see Sabahs everywhere. From black-tie weddings to the chalk sand at Burning Man. What is the most bizarre place that you’ve worn your Sabahs?
Bizarre… well, I once hiked to the top of a mountain in Colorado, Sabahs in tow. When I got there, I slipped into my Sabahs and jumped into the most pristine, blue, fresh water lake you’ve ever seen. I needed Sabahs because it was rocky, and slippery, and not safe to be barefoot.
A wise man once said, “You spend most of your time in your bed or on your feet, so it’s important to invest in both.” If we opened up your closet, what shoes would we find in your assemblage, besides Sabahs?
My favorite city boots that I’ve had for almost ten years. A pair of John Varvatos zip-up suede boots. My favorite cowboy boots, I’m a Texan. A pair of cognac Tecovas. And a few pairs of running shoes. I prefer simple, black Aasics. And lastly, a good pair of Chukka boots. I have Aldens. Great shoes. That’s about it for me. Sabahs are so versatile now that I wear them to almost everything.
Men’s style has certainly has become more casual these days. How do you see that fitting in with the Sabah brand?
Personally, I don’t love how casual we’re all becoming. I dislike the athleisure look. I wouldn’t walk out of my house in sweatpants. I also travel and dress up a bit. You know… a little dignity. I’m a nostalgic person. Sabahs straddle the line. They’re either a casual dress-up shoe or a really nice, casual shoe. So, I’d say Sabah fits in well regarding that trend. We’re simply a good, versatile pair of shoes, so if you wear sweats with ‘em, great or if you wear suits with ‘em, great. It’s up to the user. And there’s no wrong answer. My opinions are simply mine.
How would you describe your personal style?
Eclectic. Colorful. I wear a lot of blue. It’s inspired by my travels. But, increasingly simple and more uniform-esque.
Looking to the future, does the Sabah brand extend beyond footwear into a fully fledged fashion and lifestyle brand?
Probably not. We’ll make products that interest and excite us. We just launched a scent. We made a traveler bag. It’s coming back soon. We’re working on belts. I only want to make products I really love and feel great about, not extensions for the sake of it. Scent was very fun to explore. Developing a first class traveler bag was, too. Maybe we’ll make a traveler shirt… we’ll see.
If it were day one of Sabah again, what would you do differently?
I’d have setup my accounting and books a little better. We’re playing clean up now and it sucks. I’d also have been a little more budget conscious. My inclination is to spend and sell. I’d have been a little more thoughtful about the spend.
This is one of our favorite questions… if you could combine two existing, but unrelated startups to make something totally ridiculous, what would they be?
I’d probably combine a social media influencer company with SpaceX and send all those fools into space.
And last one, especially because social media is everywhere these days. What is favorite social media account to follow and why?
Well, as you can probably tell from my answer to your last question…. I’m pretty tired of social media. So I follow very few accounts and mostly just friends, family, and a few brands that I’m very close to and excited by. Everyone is just selling on social media now… including Sabah. It’s getting old and tiring to consume. So I guess my answer would be a list of accounts like my dad, my girlfriend and her brand, my best friend and his restaurant, and NASA.