Meet the Sabah Dealer. His passion, authenticity and love of building relationships has created a cult following for Sabah—not your typical retail business, or your typical shoe.
Suave and charismatic, Mickey Ashmore, the man behind Sabah and its popularity, is a creative entrepreneur with an inherent knowledge of how to connect with people. His adventurous, welcoming and curious attitude—along with core business and analytical skills—are the cornerstone of the success that the Sabah House has experienced since its inception in 2013. Starting as a pure fashion statement, Sabah has now transformed into a lifestyle brand with the help of a few friends.
“Sabah Sunday is going to be the best Sunday anyone has ever had with the best wine, best food, best crowd and best shoes”
Sabah was born after Mickey returned from Istanbul, where he lived and worked for Microsoft for a couple of years. During this period, he was dating a Turkish woman and was introduced to the Turkish culture; he is also fluent in the language (not bad for a Texan!). At a marketplace in southeast Turkey, the seeds of Sabah were planted when he was gifted a pair of genie-style slippers, called chark. Absolutely in awe of their comfort and style, Mickey wore them everywhere when he returned to the U.S. and we mean everywhere (he even attended a wedding in them and no, he did not look like Aladdin). When the time came for a new pair, he was able to locate a group of Turkish artisan shoemakers, request some changes to the original shoe and order several pairs of his personal design. The whole process, which took about six months, was “fun” for Mickey. Little did he know, he was on his way to starting a shoe business.
At the end of six months, Mickey named his personally designed shoe, sabah, which means "morning time" in Turkish. He loved the idea of a shoe that people could slip on in the morning and not take off till the end of the day. Once he had a large order of Sabahs shipped from Turkey, Mickey decided to throw a party and see if other people would love them, too. After a majority of the shoes sold that day, Mickey decided to go back to Turkey, get more Sabahs and start hosting "Sabah Sundays" in an open house sales environment, rather than be hung-over in bed like the rest of us. A few successful Sundays later, he was ready to quit his job and fly to Turkey to perfect his Sabahs.
“Sabah lives and dies by the relationships we have created”
As we said earlier, Sabah is not your typical retail business. The Sabah House, Sabah’s townhouse headquarters in New York’s East Village, operates to the likes of a hotel, welcoming buyers and friends of Sabah to an atmosphere more akin to a social salon than a store place. As Mickey says, "We are a small business that makes shoes in a very old-school way….Our customers are treated as guests and we run lots of dinner parties! We get to know our customers, their stories and their preferences. We are building relationships similar to those one would whilst running a hospitality space." With this ethos in mind, the Sabah team has literally made it their business to make people feel good à l’hotel Sabah as they shop and mingle.
Despite the norms of the fashion industry, Mickey has taken a very unique approach to marketing. They don’t sell their products online. Instead they host events, engage in social media, use email marketing and on the road branding via pop up shops (he likes to travel to Los Angeles & Texas, ladies). As a result, Sabah has grown primarily due to word of mouth. In fact, one of the most important guiding principles was inherited from a customer’s view of the Sabah business: “Sabahs are bought, not sold.” Shout out to Mark Merken for coming up with that!
Instagram has also helped curate a lifestyle around the brand. With usage of a trending hashtag, “#WhereToNext,” Sabah has managed to gain a large following. Although, when asked on his thoughts regarding the platform, Mickey says, “I value Instagram as a business tool, but I think it takes us away from what is real. At Sabah, we work really hard but only show the leisure side of our brand, similar to many brands on the platform. However, a big day of work for our team is when we are all, including myself, filling boxes with shoes but we don’t seem to post pictures that tell the behind-the-scenes story. Sitting by a pool is not aspirational. I think it is the people that work hard and are change agents that inspire us." We couldn’t agree more!
When we asked Mickey what has truly inspired his creative genius, he named family, friends, travel and the Sabah customers as his biggest muses. “My grandfather sold cars, my father sold shoes, and my mother ran a travel agency. I was fortunate to inherit my love for wanderlust and people through my mother, who knew how to connect with them deeply. My father instilled the power of marketing and sales in me.”
And it seems the two loves Mickey learned from his mother are intertwined. As he points out, “My favorite part about traveling was the people I met—it is the only thing I remember from my trips.” Another fascinating aspect of traveling, studying and living abroad was that he was always stimulated seeing something new. So, in his words, even “going to the dry cleaners was exciting!” We now know why the Sabah house has become a sanctuary for nesting, shopping and enjoying interesting company.
How to run a passion business? “Just go for it”
Like many Millennials, Mickey was constantly toying with ideas and starting ventures. His past resumé includes importing women’s swimwear and lingerie, and a few other wholesale businesses. In his words, “As Nike said, just do it. I had a million ideas and I just did it. If one did not work, I moved on to the next one.” With Sabah, he recalls, “There was no white paper strategy to our business plan, it was a true reflection of myself. I don’t shop online and was always bringing people together. Sabah shows authenticity.” Basically, make something you’d want yourself.
Ups and Downs
Though the business is doing really well, Mickey doesn’t pretend he hasn’t faced obstacles and challenges in the past. As one would expect with a retail business, production was extremely difficult to streamline while organizational structure was “the hardest thing to do” for Mickey. His advice: "Don't overly structure things; build the business first and retroactively structure it as you go."
How would you want people to remember you? “He brought good energy to the world”
Next time you are in the East Village, make sure to stop by the Sabah House. Better yet, plan to attend Sabah Sunday and enter their home/hotel/safe space (whatever you’d like to call it) to meet Mickey and his super personable team. Let yourself be carried away to Turkey with the smell of musky oud and beautiful décor—all while shopping for the most comfortable artisan shoes around. Let them know we sent you over :)