A Repairable Future

AWL Together Leather Studio, the only all-women owned and run leather and shoe repair business in Western Canada can be found just off The Drive, in East Vancouver and represents the breath of fresh air so needed in an industry that has been mostly unchanged for decades. In conversation last week, from their 1700 square foot workspace, Tess Gobeil, Ariss Grutter and Amy Slosky explained how their skills are built on the time honored traditions of master craftsmen and how they are marketing to a demographic who are looking for cobblers with inclusive politics, sustainability and social justice in mind, for full -service leather repairs and goods.

In an industry that is underrepresented by women they wanted to pool their skills as shoemakers and garment repair experts, focus on sustainability and create a ‘repairable future’. Shoe repair shops have historically set about keeping products out of landfill and as fast fashion retailers struggle, particularly in light of Covid, greater value is placed on quality items and consumers are buying less, yet superior, goods that can generally be altered or repaired. People are being more mindful about how they purchase goods and the care and the quality that leather can provide.

‘It's not just about repairing,’ says Amy who places a very heavy emphasis on craft; ‘We are passionate about the craft and appreciate it when people want to share that’. ‘We see everyone from vintage enthusiasts, motorcyclists, people in subcultures to people with $5000 Coach handbags,’

‘It’s not just about repairing,’ says Amy who places a very heavy emphasis on craft; ‘We are passionate about the craft and appreciate it when people want to share that’. ‘We see everyone from vintage enthusiasts, motorcyclists, people in subcultures to people with $5000 Coach handbags,’ says Arris. Whether it is a zipper on a bag or a handmade pair of shoes, the group are dedicated to leather craft, with an eye for detail, and they place a great deal of care into what they are doing. ‘Having a hand made shoe or a custom item in your hand is beyond your expectations. It’s an amazing feeling that never goes away,’ Amy adds enthusiastically. The custom work speaks for itself.

Timing has been everything, says Tess who was employed separately when Covid hit. Arris, whose leather tailoring service grew exponentially as a consequence of the pandemic, needed to expand, requiring more employees, studio time and space. While competitors were forced to take early retirements or for their businesses to close, Arris and Tess were able to focus on the business and Amy was serendipitously available to join them. Possessing a shared passion for leather, a similar working style combined with their complementary individual skills of custom leather tailoring and shoe-repair and bespoke shoe-making, this group have the essential elements for a business that is far from ‘cookie cutter’. They are poised to embark on an exciting path that reflects their community, providing opportunities for training others in the leathercraft industry, employing a diverse staff, producing a new product line in handmade leather baby shoes and launching a successful Kickstarter campaign that should help customers find them more easily. With gratitude for redefining the image of the cobbler, Crafted Vancouver wishes them all the best for a successful future.