Gabriel Abi-Saab, Etymology Co-Founder

Year One

Gabriel Abi-Saab, Etymology Co-Founder

Etymology Co-Founder and Creative Director Gabriel Abi-Saab reflects on our journey thus far and what lies ahead: discussing our brand ethos, design philosophy, and ambitions for the future.


What is Etymology and can you tell us how the brand has evolved over time?

At its core Etymology is a progressive footwear label that creates thoughtfully designed shoes informed by culture, art, and design.

We look forward but also respect the past, and we try to reflect that in our products by ensuring that all our shoes are crafted with intention.


Were there any particular experiences that shaped your current vision for the brand?

Coming from a Lebanese family, I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that valued traditions. Lebanese culture has a very strong creative element. It isn’t static or stuck in the past. It’s a culture that’s very much about enjoying life, appreciating craft, and paying respect to things that came before you.


Gabriel Abi-Saab Etymology Co-Founder


What does good design mean to you?  

I think there's a few different elements. What’s important to me is that form follows function. I think that good design isn't something that just looks good. If it's there to serve a particular purpose, it should do it well.

I also think good design doesn't need to destroy what’s been done before.  You should build on something, take the best from it, and really sort of nurture it.


Do you have routines that help your creative work?

It's funny you ask that because I was just chatting to a friend about how important music is to me. I listened to a lot of music when I was trying to motivate myself, but nothing in particular, like it was just free-flowing. So, if you’ve ever listened to my playlists, they’re super random: everything from classical to, you know, hip hop, all the way to completely different languages. And I think that's kind of reflective of my approach to design.

I find stuff that I love from different eras. I am as inspired by the works of my favourite architect, Oscar Niemeyer, as I am by hip-hop artists. I think about Yasiin Bey, and what he’s done for art and culture, and how he’s become a designer and fashion icon.

I think it's these references and icons that I kind of build my mood board and ideas around. They just culminate in something that works for me.



Can you tell us how you developed your first range?

I think if I tried to do a massive range, my ideas could have gotten a bit scattered. I think I needed something more considered to get a clearer idea of what I wanted and to get others to understand my vision.

The Penny Loafer (pennies) was a no-brainer. My dad always wore a pair of pennies and never left the house without them. They’re also what I wear daily; they work casually and as dress shoes - they’re so easy to wear.

With the Oxfords, I like the classic elegance of a nicely designed pair of lace-ups. In this day and age, where guys dress more casually, I think there's something nice about having something you can wear, specifically with a suit, that has a bit of presence and isn’t outdated but seems a bit stubborn.

The Tassel Loafers are a bit more fun. When you think about the Ivy era, you see how they kind of commandeered it and made it a bit rebellious. And they’ve got a nice point of interest. They’re playful, you know? People look down and are like, “Oh, what's that?".


Etymology Penny Loafers


How did you go about designing your shoes?

So one of the first things I did was tear multiple pairs apart to make sure the insides were right, the upper shape was right, the last was right.

I also wore our first pairs in hard. I mean, I just battered them. It was important to know how they held up over time and how they'd fit. I wanted to make sure we had enough arch support because a lot of loafers might look great, but they're really uncomfortable because they're quite flat. And for us, form has to follow function. It’s nothing others can see, but you feel it. You just feel it.


Did you take anything particular into account when designing the shoes?

It's funny. I think it’s something people don't notice, but it’s also right in front of them, is the level of work that went into getting the shape right. The toe box took months because I just wasn’t happy with it. I wanted it to have a lower profile. I wanted it to have a nice waterfall finish at the end, not just a slope at an angle. 

If there’s something you can’t really see, I think it would have to be the effort we took to balance the height of the heel. I didn't want a super high heel, but I also didn't want an aggressively low profile because that wasn’t right for the style. So, while everything might look natural, getting it perfect was just exhausting.


Do you have a larger vision in mind for Etymology?

I know it sounds stupid [laughs], but, you know, it's not about selling the most products or simply getting the shape of our shoes right. I don’t want to design every shoe under the sun, in every colour imaginable. I'm trying to build something that revolves around a way of life and the things I enjoy and find personally interesting. It doesn’t just have to be shoes. There’s a game I love called Tawle, which is Lebanese backgammon, and I’d love to be able to make my own version of it someday. I have a lot of respect for heritage brands that have stood the test of time. I know it doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes time. But if I’m building something around the things that I enjoy, I want to proceed at a pace that’s right for me.


Gabriel Abi-Saab Etymology Co-Founder

Photography by Jeffrey Zhou