Sabah Ashiq, Founder of Ashiq Studio

We would like to introduce you to the founder of Ashiq Studio, Sabah Ashiq, who is a talented architect turns female entrepreneur and specialise in luxury handmade leather bags.

About Ashiq Studio

Ashiq Studio was founded by Belgian designer Sabah Ashiq. Having achieved a successful career as an Architect in London, Sabah moved to Hong Kong in 2013 to experience a different market and approach to the one she was used to. Her experience in Asia gave her a different perspective and the opportunity to venture into the design of leather goods. Her leather pieces are characterised by minimalist designs inspired by black and white photography of buildings by Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer as well as cutting edge designs of contemporary peers. She still maintains the same appreciation for the beauty of architecture and through Ashiq studio she looks to bring the beauty she sees in architecture into people’s everyday lives.

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Hello Sabah, what inspired you to start Ashiq Studio?
I had worked many years on large scale buildings and they would take many years from design to completion. I wanted to venture in something at a human scale that can be designed, made and tested at a faster pace. With my interest in craftwork, I started learning leather crafting using traditional methods of hand stitching. My signature collection looks at practical items such as laptop sleeves which I found were not very elegant or beautifully made on the market. I wanted to bring back the beauty of high skilled craft, which is slow made and not massed produced, similar to the old satchels and briefcases that our parents and grandparents would have had. These are the kind of pieces that can be passed on from generations. At the same time I wanted to integrate this with very minimal and contemporary designs inspired by my architectural background, which is a combination that I could not find on the market. 

What makes Ashiq Studio different from other brands?
I design and make each item myself first using traditional cutting and stitching methods on leather in combination with advances in technology such as laser cutting to explore geometrically challenging shapes. Craftsmanship is valued and celebrated at the studio. This means the process is slower and more meticulous, with great attention to detail. As we do not mass produce, the costs can be higher and we absorb this cost with a lower profit margin. We believe this is worth it, as each collection batch is smaller, which means that customers can own a piece of a limited collection. We value our customers and want to deliver quality and the opportunity to have a unique piece, which we do not think this should be out of reach. 

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We believe in exposing the beauty of the raw materials rather than hiding them. If these are finished to a high standard, why would we cover them with layers of synthetic coating?We use vegetable tanning. This thin layer of finish on the leather results in showing the materials' characteristics such as natural skin marks and wrinkles. Although the minimal coating can be prone to initial scratches, these wear beautifully with time and turns each item into a piece full of individual character. The environmental impact of using vegetable tanning is also a lot less compared to chrome tanning. This means less excess product disposed in the water and less pollution. We want prove that high quality product is achievable with sustainable awareness in a fair and ethical supply chain. 

What's the most challenging part of your entrepreneurial journey?

The most challenging part for me has been to find manufacturers that share the same ethic as me. As we are not mass producing, it has been tricky finding a partner that shares the same appreciation in quality and care of the material and crafted product. At the same time to minimise environmental impact in the production process. I have been lucky to find a few producers along the way and I am always searching for talented workmanship. The down side to this is that costs in production of this method are much higher compared to competitors that mass produce. I have had to absorb this cost by having less of a profit margin than other business models. I hope this will change as people are more aware of ethical slow fashion, and are willing to pay a fairer price for these items. 

What's the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running Ashiq Studio?
By taking on work collaborations more smartly and by saying no to certain opportunities. There are so many things to juggle as a startup that you just cannot take on everything that comes your way; so you need to prioritise which ones will help your business grow and identify others that could just be draining your precious time and energy. You also cannot please everyone’s demands. At the beginning I would listen to everyones feedback. As valuable as it is, you need to target a certain market and cater for that in order to do it well instead. 

What is your personal success? What is company success?
I would say that all the small failures along the way of setting up the business and running it, have in a way been successes, as I have learnt and grown from these. 

Company success for me is receiving feedback from customers using the product and for us to develop from that. Learning what does and doesn’t work along the way. Every single customer using and appreciating the value of a handcrafted product and minimal design, makes it all worthwhile. 


A FEW WORDS OF ADVICE

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On building credibility and trust…
I think a big element in building trust is being consistent and delivering what you have promised. I truly believe it is not just about creating an image but also to have substance and depth in the product. You need to truly believe in your own product to achieve this. 

On the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business…
Starting a business is extremely time consuming, you need to be really passionate about your business idea in order to see it through. Do you care enough about this to spend all your weekend on it? If you can partner up with someone that has the same beliefs in the business, it would be good to find that person or people o be on that journey with you. 

Evaluate the costs of the business and make sure it won't drain all your resources, be smart and have a back up plan. 

Is there a gap in the market for your product? Who else is doing something similar and can you do it better?