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The Toronto Star: Rare female cobbler hammers out career

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She started cobbling by accident; a former department manager at Urban Outfitters, Agolli was coaxed into helping a friend set up a moccasinmaking workshop.

“I started and finished one pair within a couple of hours I was so into it, itching to do it so much,” she said. “That sort of sparked everything.”

“We can do it just as well as guys can do it. It’s physical labour but all it takes is for you to like it and build your stamina.”

– LORENA AGOLLI OWNER OF SOLE SURVIVOR

Lorena Agolli wants to recruit more women into hands-on, male-dominated profession

The Toronto Star, March 25, 2014, Section B

By Jane Gerster

“We can do it just as well as guys can do it. It’s physical labour but all it takes is for you to like it and build your stamina.” LORENA AGOLLI OWNER OF SOLE SURVIVOR

From page B1 If you want to apprentice for one of Toronto’s only female cobblers, you’ll need to get your priorities in order.

Lorena Agolli, owner of Kensington Market shop Sole Survivor, fell into cobbling by accident.“I don’t want someone who kind of falls in with the trends, you know?” says Lorena Agolli, “like everyone got into weaving and suddenly everyone’s weaving or doing macramé or whatever. I want someone who’s interested in learning but then also wants to stick around and grow with the place.”

The “place” is Sole Survivor, a small, open-concept basement in Kensington Market with brick walls, a low ceiling, creaky doors and pairs upon pairs of boots and shoes.

Blink and you might miss it, tucked as it is beneath a vintage clothing store.

Agolli, 29, a graduate of interior design from Sheridan College and a Ryerson University design management graduate, has worked in the basement shop for three years now and owned it for the last seven months.

She started cobbling by accident; a former department manager at Urban Outfitters, Agolli was coaxed into helping a friend set up a moccasin making workshop.

“I started and finished one pair within a couple of hours I was so into it, itching to do it so much,” she said. “That sort of sparked everything.”

But it wasn’t as simple as walking into the nearest shop. Most places wouldn’t take Agolli on as an apprentice because she was female. “They just weren’t having it,” she said. “That really bugged me.”

But after a friend bragged online about Sole Survivor saving a pair of their shoes, Agolli biked over to the shop on a whim during her lunch break, was taken on as an apprentice and began working there soon after.

For months she lived off her savings, juggling working with Sole Survivor’s former owner Katie Reed and later using her off hours to learn how to make her own shoes as an apprentice for Peter Feeny at Trent Custom Tailor.

“I did it all, learning it, loving it, had my first cuts, hammered my hand, sanded my finger, all the mishaps you can have,” Agolli said. “I didn’t have a day off for like three months . . . but I wasn’t feeling tired, it was feeding my soul.”

And when Reed wanted a change of pace and to travel, Agolli jumped at the opportunity to take over the business.

It’s a rare business to own in Canada, with only 1,460 shoe repairers and shoemakers in 2011, down from 2,010 in 2006 and 2,465 in 2001, according to Statistics Canada.

Besides Reed and her own two apprentices, Agolli has yet to meet another female cobbler in the city.

And while some customers still seem taken aback when they come in and find Agolli sanding down a heel, buffing a shoe or repairing a zipper, all have been encouraging.

“We can do it just as well as guys can do it,” she said. “It’s physical labour but all it takes is for you to like it and build your stamina.” At Sole Survivor, Agolli works to her own rhythm, with CBC radio on in the background during the morning and a mix of tunes in the afternoon as she moves between helping a customer figure out exactly what needs fixing and hammering on new soles and heel lifts, posting before and after photos to the shop’s Instagram feed. But don’t let the simplicity of the routine fool you. Agolli has plans. By the numbers, shoe making and shoe repair might be a dying art, but she’s ready to grow her business.

And she wants an all-female team to do it.

“I don’t want to seem like I’m sexist, but I had a really hard time finding someone to take me before,” Agolli said, “so why not make it women only when the rest of the shoe repair places and cobblers are all men?”

With enough extra hands to keep shoe repairs — “the bread and butter” — going, Agolli said she’d like to focus a bit more on the more creative aspects such as turning a tall boot into a short boot, changing a shoe’s colour scheme and maybe making custom shoes to order. But for now she’s focused on training her first two apprentices and lifting the veil of secrecy from cobbling.

“I don’t want people to think they can’t see what we do,” Agolli said, which is why Sole Survivor is largely open concept — customers can browse vintage shoes for sale while seeing and hearing their old boots get repaired.

“The space is so small but I like it,” she said, “what you see is what you get.”

Source: http://www.pressdisplay.com/staging/timesonline/viewer.aspx

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