Handcrafted Leather Shoes, a Dying Craft

Istanbul Turkey 2013 (31)

Ever since my friend Jasmine rolled into Istanbul I’ve been thinking a bit differently. See, she’s Canadian. And I’m just going to make a blanket statement and say that they’re all this wonderful because she has taught me about three important things:

1. Migration

2. Economy

3. Health care

4. Delicious recipes that incorporate maple syrup more into our everyday lives.

Okay, so that was four things, but really. Syrup. That one just kind of snuck up on me. Okay, so syrup is slow. Fine! I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Hands up. You caught me.

Migration: Ever since my friend Jasmine rolled into Istanbul I’ve been thinking a bit differently. Which, she says, is a great to learn how to do from travel: when one travels one learns that there are many ways to live; people across the globe live – and have been living – in their own ways. And guess what? They are just as good. The first wanderers must have said, “there’s something more than this. I’m going to find it.” There is always something good to learn from travel; there’s always something to borrow and give whenever you meet someone new. If there was ever a lesson that a Canadian could teach an American, that would be it. Eh?

If you travel to Istanbul, it’s likely that you’ll end up at Taksim Square/Istiklal Street for shopping or a stay at a hostel. For sure, get caught up in Taksim’s Istiklal street — it is a hustle and bustle of energy, shopping, street performers, and tourist sites. It’s almost a straight walk from the Taksim metro stop to the Galata Tower and so a must. On one particular rainy day, we allowed ourselves to get a little lost in the alleyways. “Left or right?” Here the shop keepers are more relaxed and they let you wander through their trinkets without hovering over you like an Anatolian spacecraft (be worried North Korea).

Jasmine Low Istanbul Turkey 2013 (3)

Economy: To travel everywhere happily and free, you should travel light.

Jasmine has been all over South America and Europe in the past year playing the harp. She has long since detached from standard souvenir shopping — for baubles are baubles and trinkets can be found anywhere — and instead treasures her photos, letters and postcards, and red-eyes to Rome; the things that are rare and cherishable are your connections and your photographs. While I was distracted by the one-of-a-kind Ottoman pot holders, she was moving on to finding the important things: Looking through the antique shops of back alleys Jasmine would ask shop owners, “do you know any harp places?” and sure enough soon we were directed.

Jasmine Low Istanbul Turkey 2013 (6)

That’s how we came to be guided by a young assistant to another shop along the neighborhood. We found that the intended shop was closed but undeterred we back tracked because I had caught a glimpse of something promising — shoes. And that’s how we were led to Fan Fin Fon, an industrial design and textile company. The two shop keepers let us wander through their shop unbothered as I noticed their brightly colored shoes. Drool.


Fan Fin Fon Istanbul Turkey 2013 (2)


Zeynep, the owner and trailblazer of the shop, lives for traditional handicraft of shoes. “Istanbul,” she explained, “used to be a center for shoe craft. When I was young, I saved my money to repair and custom make shoes.” These days, things are different. Things have changed. The desire for trend, the thrift of Forever 21, and want of abundance have changed the industry. “Shoe making is a dying craft.”

The little shoemaker (who lives in the shoe shop) along with a handful of specialists craft the shoes but they find the lack of interest discouraging. “A large part of my work is motivating these guys,” Zeynep explained. “You have to motivate these guys to work again,” to build their confidence in their skills because their skills are rare. To not give up. On our second visit, we did get to meet the craftsman for a split second: a shy cancer survivor missing most of his chest and without a voice he laughed and joked with Zeynep before offering to custom make my boots in a week if I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the fit and comfort.

Fan Fin Fon Istanbul Turkey 2013 (11)



In this shop we had a glance into a grass roots project. A project that believes in cultivating that which you love even if it is for just a little. They don’t settle for less. I found a pair that I loved.

Now before you start going off on me — “dear me, she’s gone off the handle for leather shoes! Bourgeois excess! Rise of the proletariat! A witch!” — let me say that I by no means am advocating a complete wardrobe revolution that involves throwing out everything that isn’t handmade and (beautiful) custom (*pinky up *Rochester accent “excuse me, I only drink bottled water from the Alps collected by saltwater fisherman from Norway distilled three and a half times”). No, I am still a college student trying to avoid debt, I still love H&M, and I do not advocate buying what one cannot afford. Maybe I’m just saying is…

…if you really take a step back every once and a while


…make the most of things

…you might be surprised about what a real quality anything that has been made by someone with amazing skill can do for you.

Or rather what you can do to support them. If you were like me and arrived in Istanbul with seven pairs of shoes and watched them deteriorate into ash before three months were up and spent a good chunk of time searching for and passing up cheap but way less cherishable shoes before finding a pair that will last along with the cockroaches in the nuclear war well then you might find that less is more too.

If you didn’t catch those run on sentences –

It just so happened that I could afford the shoes. And that I love them. And with a little maintenance and TLC, these won’t disappear or deteriorate from my closet for many years. And an artist was supported. A passionate, skilled artist. Sentence fragment.





Healthcare: This world is changing and I am reminded of another lesson of travel: set out to change the world or risk being changed by it. Jasmine and this little shop keeper remind me to follow the music or the shoes if that’s what you love. Cultivate that love. Don’t worry about it. Just play where you are, and love it. Love where you are because of what you do.


Melissa's Birthday 23 March Jasmine Low Istanbul Turkey 2013 (3)


In summation:  When presented with good things you can pick that which is best as it aligns with your mission in life. 


Usually involving cupcakes

Usually involving cupcakes


Less is more. Especially when that less is expertly made and will last a lifetime.

Follow the love for a healthy heart. Which, even if you’re not from Canada, still involves maple syrup and Michael Buble.

Thanks Canada.

Holy cow that was a lot of preaching.


.Jasmine Low Istanbul Turkey 2013 (4)

How To Get There: Walk down Istiklal Street from the Taksim Metro stop and keep an eye out for Sadri Alişık Sk. on your left. Make a left down the alley, peruse the shops along the way until you get to a fork in the road, make a right for Turnacıbası Cd. Tell Zeynep that travelingcookie said hi!


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