A shoemaker brings a generations-old Kurdish art to Bristol

How creating a handmade footwear business is no small fete

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A Kurdish native of southeastern Turkey, Selahattin Şep has been living in Bristol for the past few years with his wife Amanda Esons, a Bristol native, and their two young sons. The couple met while living in Turkey and moved to the East Bay so their children could spend time with Esons’ family. Şep, a visual artist who works in multimedia, was looking for a creative business that would tap into his skill set and could be done from home while raising his young family. In the year leading up to the pandemic, he and a partner in Turkey developed their concept to produce and sell traditional Kurdish toxin-free shoes that are as comfortable as they are colorful.

Ancient History: On my mother’s side, my uncle, grandfather, and the generations back have had two jobs: grow grapes and make shoes. My family has been doing shoes for 600 to 700 years, and living in the same house for over 1,500 years. I have a partner in Turkey and another craftsperson, and our studio is there. We make some parts here, some parts there, and everything is handmade.

Namesake: Our company’s name is Tigris after the river running through the middle of my city. More importantly, it is the middle name of my son, Azad Tigris. When he was born we threw his belly button into the Tigris River.

Chemical Free: We get our leather from three different tanneries in three different cities in Turkey; it’s sustainable, authentic, and completely natural. We don’t use any toxic chemicals so for glue we use a lily root-based [adhesive].

Pandemic Effect: We started with $300 and borrowed money from cousins and others, and made 130 shoes. Then the global pandemic started. In 2020, I sold just 10 pairs of shoes. Once I could start selling at markets, things got better. I do many farmers markets – my first was the summer Bristol State Street Fair where I sold 30 pairs of shoes in a day. I hang the shoes in my sales tent and it looks like a candy store. They are so comfortable and I have lots of happy customers.

Happy Feet: Our feet are carrying all the weight in our body. If we don’t wear healthy shoes, all the sweat and toxins stay in your body. Bad shoe, bad health; good shoe, good health.

Learn more at TigrisHandmade.com

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