Not everyone can wander the world barefoot. For most of us, shoes are a vital part of our lives. They protect our feet from the weather, the ground, and the things we don’t want to step on. After our shoes log countless miles and eventually they wear out. That’s when they need to be repaired by a cobbler.
A cobbler, also known as a shoemaker or cordwainer, repairs and restores footwear. It’s one of the world’s oldest professions that peaked long ago, but is still going strong.
In the United States there are 7,000 shoe repair shops that serve 300 million people – that’s more than 600 million shoes.
Originally cobblers made custom shoes. Today they spend their workdays repairing, restoring, and improving shoes, boots, sandals, clogs, moccasins, loafers, and stilettos. Fixing zippers, belts, luggage, gloves, handbags, buckles, and other leather products is also common work for cobblers. Some cobblers also sell shoe accessories like laces, polishes, shoehorns, orthotic foodbeds, and waterproofing treatments.
Cobblers are talented professionals. They can fix shoe problems like broken heels, worn out soles, ugly wrinkles, crooked seams, unsightly holes, damaged waterproofing, faded colors, or busted eyelets. Every shoe is a puzzle that must be solved and the cobbler must be able to do it even if it’s a challenge.
Cobblers spend their days sewing, cutting, dying, stitching, patching, sanding, polishing, sealing, shining, and mending. After the cobbler examines the problem, they must find a solution. If the shoe has a hole, the correct type of leather must be hand picked. If the heel is busted, it must be removed, rebuilt, and reglued. If a seam is blown, thread must be matched and sewn. If the sole has worn thin, it must be replaced. Whatever the job is, cobblers pride themselves on quality craftsmanship.
In order to get the shoe repair job done, cobblers use a variety of tools like knives, hammers, tack pullers, prying tools, thread, needles, and their own creativity. They also use hazardous materials like glues, dyes, and adhesives. Adhesives are so strong now that they are used more commonly than nails and stitches. However the job is completed, it must look good and perform even better.
Quality work is important because it keeps customers coming back for repair work. Most cobblers spend their days doing sole replacements for $35 or heel repairs for $12. Cobblers must keep their prices low because new shoes aren’t as expensive as they used to be. They must keep it cost effective to repair rather than replace. Cobblers mostly work with expensive shoes and therefore must stay up to date on styles, trends, fashions, and of course new footwear fixes.
Most cobblers learn the trade as a family craft. It is a job that is passed down from generation to generation. Other people become cobblers after working in the shoe industry. Some learn the trade through apprenticeships with established cobblers. Nearly every town has a shoe repair shop and many cobblers are willing to take on apprentices.
After learning the shoe repair trade, cobblers earn certifications like the Shoe Service Institute of America’s (SSIA) Pedorthic Shoe Technician certification. Pedorthics is the study of solving foot related problems with footwear – a growing niche. Some cobblers earn the annual SSIA’s Silver Cup Awards for shoe repair excellence.
Certifications and awards show dedication to the profession, enhance professional reputation, and help bring in business. That means more referrals, more local walk-ins, and more clients using mail order shoe repair services through websites.
Keeping people in functional footwear is a full time job. Cobblers make about $16,000 to $19,000 per year and help keep the people of the world moving. If you’re a shoe fanatic, consider finding a job as a cobbler – just make sure you’re in touch with your soles.