Mend & Make Do: Visit your local cobbler

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Once upon a time we would have had a cobbler in every community. Sadly, local handmade production of shoes has been discarded for large scale cheap manufacturing in China and elsewhere, and these skilled artisans have almost completely disappeared from our communities. But whilst it would be near impossible to order a pair of custom made shoes locally, many of us are lucky enough to have access to a skilled shoe repairman (or woman) who uses traditional cobbling techniques to mend shoes. But these skilled artisans are also fast disappearing with fewer and fewer younger generations taking up the trade. If we are lucky enough to have a skilled cobbler in our community, it is essential that we support our local cobblers now so that younger generations can see the trade as a valuable one to go in to, and ensure that we don’t lose these skills from our communities entirely.

I have found that I visit my cobbler, on average, once or twice a year. Until recently this was only for resoling my shoes, particularly heels which seem to wear down quickly. But recently the stitching on my favourite pair of boots began to unravel at the heel seam. You can see this in the photo below:

Boots that need mending

For me, this was an interesting study in the pervasive nature of our ‘throw-away’ consumer culture. My initial thoughts were along these lines “What a shame, I really love these shoes. Well, at least they have had a good life- I have worn them every winter for the past 5 years. I can’t really complain about needing to throw them out after 5 years of regular use.” Despite all of my constant reflection on sustainability, my initial thoughts were still that I would have to throw them out. But then I began to think “But other than the seam, they still look so good, it seems such a shame to discard them. Wait a minute, surely a seam can be restitched! I will ask my cobbler….”

So I took my boots to my local cobbler, and low and behold it is possible to restitch a hem that has come unstitched! This fact is not surprising really, but if I hadn’t taken the time to reflect upon my shoes as a valuable resource, I may have just discarded them before I had realised that they were perfectly repairable.

Here is my mended boot, with the seam nicely stitched and complete with some hefty new soles:

Boots mended

How many perfectly repairable shoes do you think we waste in our communities because we haven’t taken the time to reflect on their inherent value? I can remember about three years ago, when I was just starting to think about sustainability in fashion, my lovely pair of black Italian-made oxfords- my favourite flats that I wear most days of the week for two thirds of the year- were scuffed beyond recognition. My first thoughts were “What a shame, I really love these shoes. They have only lasted me a year!”. It didn’t immediately occur to me that I was perfectly capable of polishing the shoes and that heavy scuffing was not a reason to throw out a pair of shoes.  I have never been a wasteful person- I grew up in a very poor family and because of this I am reasonably frugal by nature. But even with this background, the influence of our throwaway culture is so pervasive that my first thoughts were to discard the shoes. Thankfully, I had just begun to think a bit more critically  about my fashion choices and I did realise that scuffed leather could be easily restored with good polish. In fact, three years and a set of new soles later, they are still my primary pair of flats.

I am sure that polishing shoes is not a revelation to you. But what is interesting is how inescapable our throwaway society is. So next time you catch yourself thinking something has come to the end of it’s life, take some time to reflect. You may well find that there are many things you can do to save a valuable resource from landfill.

What is your experience? Have you found yourself automatically wanting to discard something of value before realising that there was something you could do to avoid this? Have your forays into sustainable fashion changed the way you view your old and worn clothes and shoes?


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