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How Do I Become a Shoe Cobbler?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Embarking on the journey of how to become a cobbler opens a door to a craft with deep historical roots and a steady demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, shoe and leather workers, including cobblers, held about 8,100 jobs in 2020, with a projected stability in the field due to the need for shoe repair and custom footwear. 

Aspiring cobblers can pursue formal education through specialized programs in colleges or vocational schools, some of which are integrated into fashion design departments. Alternatively, hands-on apprenticeship under a seasoned cobbler provides invaluable on-the-job training, marrying tradition with practical experience. This path not only equips you with the necessary skills but also immerses you in the artistry of the trade.

Cobblers are skilled craftsmen who have historically been responsible for repairing, and maintaining shoes. They use a variety of tools and machines to perform functions such as resoling, patching, stretching, and fitting. Many types of commercially produced shoes cannot be repaired, or else are not worth repairing, but there is still a demand for the services of cobblers in the modern world. In addition to traditional repairs and modifications, modern cobbler shops often provide other related services such as shoe shining.

There is no one career path you must follow to become a shoe cobbler, though there are some options you may want to consider. If you have the financial means to attend a college or vocational school, and you can locate one with an appropriate program of study, then that is one way to get a job as a shoe cobbler. Schools that offer training in cobbling and cordwaining sometimes have separate shoemaking departments, while others have classes or programs within a general fashion design department. This is typically the best path to choose if you think you may want to be a shoe designer, or cordwainer, in addition to a skilled cobbler.

Colleges and vocational schools can provide you with valuable knowledge and experience, but obtaining that type of higher education is not strictly necessary. Another way to become a shoe cobbler is to simply go to work at a shoe repair shop. Some cobblers require their employees to have a high school education, while others are more concerned with work ethics than diplomas. When looking for a job at a cobbler's store, it is important to let any potential employers know that you are interested in learning the trade. That may help you find a cobbler who will be willing to train you on the job as an apprentice.

FAQ on Becoming a Shoe Cobbler

What education or training is required to become a shoe cobbler?

To become a shoe cobbler, formal education is not strictly necessary, but training is essential. Many cobblers learn through apprenticeships, where they work under the guidance of experienced professionals. Vocational schools and community colleges may offer relevant courses in shoe repair and leatherwork. The Shoe Service Institute of America (SSIA) provides resources and certification programs that can enhance a cobbler's credibility and skill set.

How long does it take to become proficient in shoe cobbling?

The time it takes to become proficient in shoe cobbling can vary widely. An apprenticeship may last from a few months to a couple of years, depending on the complexity of the skills being taught and the apprentice's learning pace. According to the SSIA, it typically takes at least six months to a year of hands-on experience to become competent in basic shoe repair techniques.

What are the essential skills needed to be a successful shoe cobbler?

A successful shoe cobbler needs a combination of technical and business skills. Technical skills include knowledge of different materials, sewing, cutting, and shaping techniques, as well as the ability to operate specialized machinery. Business skills are also crucial, as many cobblers run their own shops, requiring customer service, marketing, and financial management abilities. Attention to detail and a passion for craftsmanship are also important traits.

Is there a demand for shoe cobblers today?

Despite the rise of disposable fashion, there is still a demand for shoe cobblers. Many consumers prefer to repair quality footwear rather than replace it, and there is a growing interest in sustainability which supports the repair and reuse of goods. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, does project a decline in employment for shoe and leather workers and repairers from 2019 to 2029, indicating a competitive market.

Can shoe cobbling be a profitable business?

Shoe cobbling can be a profitable business, especially in areas where there is a lack of competition and a clientele that values craftsmanship. Cobblers who offer specialized services, such as custom orthopedic work or high-end shoe restoration, may find more lucrative opportunities. Diversifying services to include related offerings like key cutting, engraving, or selling shoe care products can also increase revenue streams for a cobbling business.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon1004815 — On Apr 22, 2021

@lluviaporos Sir Terry Pratchett would like a word, 'cepting he's dead now. I can tell you from personal experience that you're wrong - the quality and longevity of higher quality footware does not scale in direct correlation with the price, but multiples of it.

I wore $100 boots for years, and spent $100/year on them because that's how long they lasted. I got sick of that and went back to the same $200 Bellevilles I wore in the Marines and I'm still wearing the two pairs I bought almost 10 years ago-they last four or five years before they even need soles, while the $100 boots were both almost treadless and starting to come apart at the seams after a year or less of the same use.

So not only was I spending less than half as much annually, but I also didn't have to break in new boots each year. And due to being made with it in mind, when they do need soles I can glue on new Vibrams myself - again for significantly less than the price of a new pair of SWAT boots or similar so the ROI is even greater.

If you're talking about running shoes or similar, yeah - they are literally disposable and designed to be tossed after a set number of miles, and buying more expensive ones usually doesn't mean they last any longer, just have a desirable logo or features.

By lluviaporos — On Aug 25, 2013

@bythewell - I wouldn't worry too much. There are definitely courses out there that people can take on how to repair shoes and how to make new ones. If you look online you can find quite a few people making shoes to sell and many of them will offer to fix the shoe once it wears out.

I think it's a shame that people buy cheap shoes so often now, but I can see why. I don't think it's cheaper in the long run to get more expensive shoes. It might be better for the environment and more comfortable for your feet though.

By bythewell — On Aug 24, 2013

@Ana1234 - This is one of those jobs that I kind of take for granted, but now I'm a bit worried it might disappear one day. Decent modern shoes do need to be resoled eventually. You can wear the right pair for years, or even indefinitely if you take care of them and go in to get them re-heeled when necessary.

I've found it's actually cheaper in the long run to get a more expensive pair from a good shop and then just take them to the cobbler every couple of years (depending on how often you wear them of course).

Now I'm a bit worried because most of the cobblers I know are getting on in years. I hope that there are some younger people waiting in the wings to take up the position. I know that people are willing to work if they can, but it seems like such an obscure job not that many people would know about it to even train for it.

By Ana1234 — On Aug 24, 2013

I would go into a few cobblers in my area and ask them how they went about getting the job. I imagine most of the time there is either a particular course that people do, or there is an apprenticeship system.

Bear in mind that if there is an apprenticeship system, then you really should be polite and friendly when asking your questions, because your future might depend on making friends with the person you're talking to.

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