Where to Repair?
From a once in-demand service to a niche industry, finding an experienced cobbler in Melbourne is not the easiest of tasks. While many multi-service shops offer surface level shoe repair services, there are few remaining cobblers with in-depth knowledge of the trade. This post discusses some of the contributing factors to the decline of the cobbler and provides our recommendations for finding those still practicing old-school craftsmanship around Melbourne.
The Decline of an Old-fashioned Trade
Older Melburnians may remember a time when it was a routine task to take your favourite pair of boots to your trusted local shoemaker or cobbler with the knowledge that your items were in good hands
Expert advice, high quality craftsmanship, great service and the potential for a friendly chat – these days you’d be luck to find someone capable of doing a simple leather resole.
Unfortunately finding a cobbler of the old-school tradition who shows passion for their work and is committed to learning the age-old craft can be a challenge. A journey across some of Melbourne’s shopping centres and CBD districts provides you with some shoe repairers may leave you feeling underwhelmed.
Changes to the footwear market have forced many generational cobblers to close up shop. Those remaining have often compensated by diversifying into areas such as key cutting, remote controls, pressure testing and engraving to name but a few
Masters of none. The modern version of the cobbler lacks the depth of knowledge and experience of his predecessors. Diversification has come at a cost devaluing a traditional craft and reputable profession once relied upon for its resourcefulness and custom solutions.
Of course these changes have not necessarily been a bad thing for the profession. Reinvention and adaption to changing market conditions has opened potential avenues for profit and helped stabilise struggling businesses or allowed for new business models.
The greatest impact has been felt by those who still insist on purchasing high quality crafted leather shoes – footwear traditionally constructed to last many years. But where can you service a good pair of shoes nowadays?
An interesting fact is that people these days do not even realise that most good quality shoes are repairable and are actually made to be serviced. Like a vintage car proper shoe maintenance is essential to proper functioning and purchasing high quality leather goods should be seen as a long-term investment.
An interview with Mr. Evans – Master Cobbler and Leather Craftsmen, Founder of Melbourne Institution, Evans in Royal Arcade`
What Happened to the Cobbler?
We asked retired shoe-maker and old-school craftsman Evans Skliros better known by his clients as “Mr. Evans” whose was in charge of Evans – Quality Shoe, Handbag & Leather Repairs in the Royal Arcade for over 60 years about some of the changes to the industry.
According to Skliros, the loss of the friendly shoe man was linked to the broader trend of the decline of the shoe manufacturing industry within Australia. Like many industries most shoe companies moved there factory operations overseas in order to lower labour and material costs.
The loss of the shoe manufacturing industry unsurprisingly coincided with a shortage of skilled cobblers. The cobblers expertise became less required in a world where export labour, overseas manufacturing and production of cheap footwear prevailed.
Furthermore the lack of quality made leather shoes and proliferation of badly constructed was detrimental to the trade.
The widespread use of industrial adhesives for glueing and moulding soles to the upper led to the release of many unrepairable shoes into the footwear market. Although sold at an attractive price point, these shoes were ultimately disposable due to the use of cheap materials and construction methods.
The collateral of these changes to the footwear industry was the loss of many generational shoe repairers who have moved away from the trade entirely.
The Diversified Cobbler
If the cobbler was to still remain an economically viable trade, the role needed offer other services which could compensate for the loss of the shoe repair market.
This led a different type of cobbler to arise, one which could fit a business model offering cost-effective services.
Diversified cobblers are now the type of shoe repair business most people would be familiar with. That is, a multi-purpose shop that offers a variety of services in addition to basic shoe repairs such as key cutting, remote controls and knife sharpening.
Essentially these businesses have the offerings of both a locksmith and cobbler without knowing any particular trade in-depth. Types of shoe services offered often include heel tips, TOPYs and other minor repair procedures.
These places are typically limited in their ability to handle anything outside the scope of basic repairs with many companies promoting 3 month cobbler apprenticeships. This is hardly sufficient time to learn a trade that traditionally took years to master
Unfortunately diversification has done little to help the shoe repair industry with sub-par workmanship often being the norm. The reputation of the cobbler has suffered and a conceptual shift has occurred from the friendly old man to the ‘can’t fix it’ unhelpful shoe guy behind the counter.
A frustrating fact is that many of these businesses merely scratch the surface of what the industry has to offer and the diverse skill set a cobbler should possess. Cheap shoes has meant a greater ‘cheap’ shoe repair services but this has come to the cost to those who insist on buying quality.
The Resurgence of the Cobbler / Craftsman
Although the spread of experienced cobblers across Melbourne now runs thin, their may be better times ahead for those that uphold the tradition of craftsmanship. Demand for these niche services is only increasing, with limited who understand the trade in depth, such knowledge is rare and therefore highly valued
We have witnessed these changes first-hand over the past few years as people become more conscience about sustainability and begin to appreciate the long-term value of taking care for a pair of good quality leather shoes.
This is trend is best demonstrated in the mens retail sector with newer establishments such a Double Monk offering higher quality mens shoes while older institutions like McClouds Shoes continue to import traditional English footwear in Melbourne CBD.
The growth in popularity of high-end shoes means that skilled hands are still required to maintain these valuable items. Over the next few years we expect to see a continuation of this trend as more people begin to appreciate the value of quality footwear repairs.
Our Recommended Cobblers in Melbourne
We’re often asked by our older customers if Evans were to ever close down where could you take your shoes to be serviced in Melbourne?
We’ve done some research and found a few long-standing and more recently established cobblers who still practice the traditional craft. If you live in the following suburbs these our recommended repairers. Please note business hours may vary so we suggest contacting these cobblers directly.
– Blights Shoe Repairs (Elsternwick)
Family owned since 1932 Blights is an Elsternwick institution provides all types of traditional shoe and leather repair services.
– Condellos Shoe Repairs (Brunswick East)
Another family business established in 1955, Condello’s offers the fine old art of shoe repairing and old-fashioned service to its north side customers.
– Walkalong Shoe Repairs (Campberwell)
Experts in footwear and luggage repairs, Walkalong is has been Campberwells go to for leather repairs for over 60 years
– Chris The Cobbler (Macloud)
Old-school workmanship and service in Macloud.
With over 60 years as an established destination for Melbourne’s shoe repairs, all our cobblers are professionally trained within our workshop. We offer all aspects of shoe repairs, alterations and restorative work on leather. Get in touch with one of our friendly team members today.Contact Us