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What is a Shoe Cobbler?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A shoe cobbler is a craftsman or woman who specializes in repairing shoes. Traditionally, these individuals also made shoes, although most modern ones focus on repair and restoration, not the manufacture of new shoes. Many communities around the world have cobblers, and in areas where one is not practicing, people can ship or mail shoes for repair and restoration. Using the services of a cobbler can generate substantial savings, as he or she can repair a pair of shoes for the fraction of the cost of a replacement pair.

Cobblers have been working with shoes for centuries, and cobbling is one of the oldest professions in the world. Historically, people purchased shoes from this person, and used his or her services to continually repair the shoes as needed. A single pair of shoes could last for a decade or more with judicious resoling, refinishing, and minor repair work, giving the wearer a great deal of mileage.

In addition to resoling, shoe cobblers can also perform stretching, resurfacing, reshaping, reheeling, and other repairs. They can work with wood, jute, leather, synthetics, cotton, and other materials used to make shoes, and many also offer services like shoe dying, relacing, and so forth. Cobblers work with vintage shoes, designer shoes, and more ordinary shoes with attached or thrifty owners. Shoe repair may not seem like very big business, but many of these individuals represent multiple generations in the shoe repair business, and business tends to be brisk during periods of recession, when people seek out cost cutting measures, like repair in preference to buying new shoes.

It takes around four years to train to become a cobbler. This training includes learning the use of all of the equipment used in the field, and working with a wide variety of shoes to learn about various approaches to repairing them. Most cobblers train by apprenticeship, often with a family member, and they can work alone or in groups. Prices for services tend to be very reasonable, with cobblers focusing on volume to make their income, working on multiple pairs of shoes every week.

Finding a shoe cobbler is generally easy with the assistance of a phone book. If one is not in the area, several websites provide mail order shoe repair services as well as shoe care advice. A cobbler located in a neighboring community may also be happy to accept mailed shoes from a customer who does not want to take a long drive.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By shoexpert — On Jan 02, 2013

I am a female professional shoe designer/maker, currently operating in Malaysia. I am the second generation from a shoe making family. There are not too many of us left in this world who actually mastered the craftsmanship.

I also conduct shoe workshops for people who wish to know more about shoes and probably pursue being a cobbler further as a career. My students are mostly expatriates of all ages.

There is one thing I wish to clarify. I am sometimes mistaken as a cobbler and am requested to repair or mend shoes. It is truly an insult to me as it is different work and tools. These people who came to me are all highly educated and I wonder why they don't understand the difference between a cobbler and a shoe maker. The traditional cobbler who repairs and also makes shoes doesn't exist in this generation anymore.

As for the saying that the cobbler's children have no shoes, I can tell you that a shoemaker's children has no shoes either because my son has no proper shoes most of the time. Guess why.

By anon297603 — On Oct 16, 2012

I'm doing a report on colonial shoemakers, on the differences between then and now, the tools, systems, if they make shoes by hand anymore or do machines always do the work now?

By anon272355 — On May 31, 2012

The "cobblers' children have no shoes" quote comes from India. In India, people engaged in shoemaking profession were subjugated to all sorts of repression and were so much despised that they were not even touched and were classified as "untouchables". They led a very hard and poor life for 3000 years because of Hindu caste system and were forced to live on outskirts of the city.

Being very poor, the children of cobblers used to be mostly without shoes. I know it because I was one of those. All my ancestors were cobblers by profession. We are the ones who suffered due to the Indian caste system.

By anon121987 — On Oct 26, 2010

how would you approach someone to ask if they would be willing to train someone for four years? then do you get licensed? How is it determined when you would be ready to go out on your own?

By CopperPipe — On Oct 21, 2010

@pharmchick78 -- That saying is talking about how people with particular skill sets often neglect to use them to help themselves or those close to them because they're too busy providing that service to other people.

It's the same thing as a decorator who never finds time to redo their own house, or a cook who always eats out because they can't stand to cook at home.

The saying is not literally true, at least in my town. Our little village cobbler shoe repair business is booming, so I can't imagine our cobbler's kids going barefoot!

By pharmchick78 — On Oct 21, 2010

I heard an odd saying the other day -- "cobblers children have no shoes" -- what does that mean? You would think that cobbler's children would have all the shoes they could possibly handle.

I mean, its not like the shoe cobbler lacks supplies for making them. So what does that saying mean, and how would I use it in an everyday sentence?

By yournamehere — On Oct 21, 2010

I guess I had never thought about all the training that it takes to actually become a shoe cobbler.

There's a corner cobbler shoe repair in my town, and I always see the guy in there working, but he's one of those people who's about a thousand years old, and he seems so natural doing shoe resoling that it's like he was born knowing how to do it.

Perhaps that's the mark of a master craftsman -- that you can't imagine them doing anything else.

He must have had a bunch of training though, or at least many years of experience, since so many people in my area go to him for shoe repairs.

Thanks for telling me this information -- it really opened my eyes.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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