Hand stitching a pair of Sabahs is not easy.
Take, for instance, the well-worn hands of one of the Sabah craftsmen responsible for this art.
One such journeyman maker is Yilmaz (hands above, portrait below). Yilmaz was a coppersmith in the old Gaziantep Bazaar for two decades until four years ago when we recruited him for our Sabah Stitcher Training Program.
He was our first trainee. And today, he is our most skilled stitcher. On top of stitching upwards of twenty pairs in a day, Yilmaz is tasked with mentoring and training our younger generation of stitchers.
Some context - when we started Sabah almost 8 years ago, we had just one stitcher in the workshop. His name was Cem. A fifth generation shoemaker, his last name quite literally meant "shoe stitcher." He was born into his vocation.
By then, the trade of traditional Turkish shoes, from which Sabah is derived, was dying. Stitchers like Cem were in short supply. They were simply few and far between and mostly at the end of their careers.
As Sabah began to gather steam, and demand for our shoes increased, we quickly recognized our biggest challenge: stitching enough Sabahs to match their rising popularity. That's when we started a recruitment effort and training program funded by precisely this ever-increasing demand. In other words, Thank You.
Training is no easy process. Many who start the program, drop out for a variety of reasons: it's hard work physically; it requires intense concentration; and one must have an artistic touch - a deft feel is as important as technique.
For a new trainee, it takes a few months to simply be proficient, a couple years to be really good, and a lifetime to become an Usta -- the Turkish word for "master."
Kemal, above, is our newest full-time stitcher. He completed training this summer under the guidance of Yilmaz. He's been with us a little over a year now.
When asked about his work, he responded, "Over the last two months, I'm starting to feel really much better at stitching. At first, it was hard for me to even handle the needles. Today, the hardest part is stitching the toe of the shoes ... you can't see inside and everything must be done with feel. But I'm working much faster now and with more ease. And I do my work with love. I can now stitch nearly fifteen pairs in a day."
Today, we now have six stitchers working full-time in the Sabah workshop, "graduates" of the program. We have several more in training too. Our aim is to have ten full-time stitchers by the end of 2021.
Our business has grown quite a bit since it's inception. But we've stayed true to our roots in Gaziantep; to traditional production methods. It hasn't been easy. It means Sabah supply can run low from time to time. And yet, that only reinforces our notion that you're getting the best possible pair of shoes, made with care, and hand-crafted individually by some really wonderful folks that we consider family over there in Gaziantep.
And you should know - they very much appreciate you too.
The Sabah Dealer