Q&A: Sabah Founder Mickey Ashmore on Istanbul and Traveling Stylishly

Mickey Ashmore

Have you ever heard about the hedge funder who quit the world of finance to sell shoes? That’s the story of Mickey Ashmore a.k.a. The Sabah Dealer, the charismatic founder of Sabah, a brand that produces traditional Turkish slippers (with a few design tweaks for Western tastes). Originally from Texas, Ashmore first encountered the shoes while working for Microsoft in Istanbul for two years.

“I met a beautiful woman who gave me a pair of traditional Turkish leather slippers,” he says. “I had no idea those slippers would change my life.”

Ashmore made a move to New York City to work for a hedge fund in 2012. He wore his slippers all over town, and a search for a second pair led him to an old-school craftsman working in an ancient bazaar in the southeast of Turkey. Requesting a few modifications, Ashmore ended up creating a unique shoe; what began as a hobby of gifting slippers to friends and family snowballed into a standalone business. Today, when he’s not on the road promoting his brand, The Sabah Dealer peddles his shoes from The Sabah House, his home/showroom in the East Village, where he often hosts Sabah Sundays, informal gatherings for customers new and old.

Here at Fodor’s HQ, Sabahs are among our favorite shoes to travel with: They’re colorful, effortlessly chic, easy to take on and off, and perfect for dressing up or down. What’s more, they come with a heritage that makes for a good story. Because we wanted to hear some more good stories, we chatted with The Sabah Dealer himself about life in Istanbul, the secrets to being a stylish traveler, and the pros and cons of Instagram.

What makes Sabah unique?

We still make every pair with those same shoemakers in Turkey. I like to consider Sabah half-retail, half-hospitality. We do not sell via e-commerce. We take time to know our customers. We serve them well, have fun and, in return, they serve us well, too. Like our shoes, it’s a very traditional and beautiful way of doing business. As much a lost art as the shoes themselves.

What do you miss most about living in Istanbul?

The amazing friends I made there from all over the world (luckily many of them are now in New York) and the community we built. I also miss the fact that everyday was an adventure.

How would you spend a perfect day in Istanbul?

I would start my day with a run along the Bosphorus from Arnavutkoy to Rumeli, and on the way back stop in Bebek for breakfast at Bebek Kahve or Mangerie. I would then change, shower, and call my friend Hakan, who captains a small, private boat on the Bosphorus. I would have him pick up me and three friends (hopefully one being a romantic interest) for a one-hour tour up and down the Bosphorus in the early afternoon. I would bring a few cold bottles of Sarafin Sauvignon (a crisp white wine) and my camera!

After an hour of touring, Hakan would drop us off on the Asian side at the Sumahan on the Water hotel, where we would have a couple more drinks and snacks, especially some great hazelnuts, on their patio with an amazing view of the bridge and Istanbul’s European side. After finishing our drinks, Hakan would pick us up and we’d go to Suna’nin Yeri for an incredible early dinner of seafood, meze, and raki, all served along the public ferry dock. It’s a locals’ spot and it’s very special. After dinner, it’s either to bed or out dancing at one of Istanbul’s many fun spots. 

Mickey Ashmore

When you’re traveling for leisure, how do you decide where to go next?

If I really want to relax, I like to go somewhere I’ve been before. I find a second and third trip to a place is always the best and the most relaxing. You’ve seen enough to know what you like and what you will enjoy. You don’t feel pressure to do it all. And going back to an amazing restaurant is always a pleasure.

What are your favorite souvenirs from abroad?

My original pair of Turkish slippers, of course! That and a set of wooden masks I bought in the mountains in Ladakh, India, almost ten years ago. It was my first solo trip and my first trip to somewhere as exotic as India. Those masks remind me of hiking alone in the mountains.

What’s the secret to being a stylish traveler?

Dressing the part—including not wearing pajamas on a plane—and traveling light.

You seem to be a big fan of Instagram. What are your tips for taking great shots?

I’m not sure I would call myself a big fan of Instagram. It takes people out of the moment too much. But for business, Instagram is a fun and useful tool, and we’ve made the most of it! In terms of tips, I suggest being authentic and not working too hard to orchestrate shots. I also suggest smiling and laughing in photos. 

What’s the most overrated place you’ve ever been? The most underrated?

The most overrated would be Prague. The most underrated would be Monte Argentario in Italy, specifically Porto Santo Stefano—wow!

If you could hop on a plane right now to anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Santa Fe, New Mexico. I love it there. I find it very calming in every way.

Aside from Sabahs, what are some of your favorite travel clothes and accessories?

A pair of simple Wrangler jeans, a white button-down shirt from Alex Mill, an indigo Jacket by Okura in Tokyo, and a good Pierre Louis Mascia scarf. I also enjoy traveling with a set of Master & Dynamic headphones and that day’s Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new place?

Go for a run!

What’s one place everyone should visit in their lifetime?

India. It’s absolutely incredible!

 

Adios Chicago. It was really fun. Where to Next? NYC. #howwesabah Electric Blue Suede Sabahs #wheretonext #NYC

A photo posted by The Sabah Dealer (@thesabahdealer) on

What’s the one thing you never travel without?

A pair of Sabahs on my feet.