Tim Cooper, master cobbler at Oliver Sweeney, on taking care of good shoes
The fact our shoes last a long time reassures customers they are worth spending money on. For us, shoe repairs are a really important part of the business. We repair about 50 pairs a week—we don’t make an enormous amount of money from it, but we see it as an affirmation that our product is made to last. When customers are buying shoes that are a little bit more expensive than average, we want them to be confident that over their lifetime they will give great value for money.
Our shoe repairer, Al, won the world shoe repair championship. That’s how I found him—he entered the championship with a pair of our shoes and tagged us on Instagram. He lives in Somerset, and is ridiculously brilliant. People have worn them to death and by the time he finishes with them, it is like they have never been worn. We had a pair back last week that the customer had bought in 1991. They were nearly 30 years old—and they came back like new.
A lot of brands spend a lot of time thinking about inputs, and less about longevity. We do think about inputs—we use really nice leather from tanneries I know personally and have visited—but one of the big things for me is sustainability, and the cost per wear. If you buy a pair of shoes for £40, and they last you six months, you’ll end up buying 20 pairs over the course of 10 years, rather than one pair of ours. Every new pair has to be made, often using a lot of manmade and petrochemical-based materials—and will end up in landfill, where they won’t decompose like leather. There is a lot to be said for getting shoes that last and can be repaired.
Sometimes the best product in your wardrobe is the oldest product in your wardrobe. I want our customers to feel like that about their shoes. The insole of our shoes is always leather, and beneath the leather is cork which gradually impresses with the sole of your foot as you wear them. Over time the shoe will mould to you exactly, and become part of you.
There is a big difference between cheap and good quality shoe polishes. It’s all about the ingredients. Ordinary shoe polish is often made from paraffin wax. It’s not kind to the environment, and I don’t think it works nearly as well on shoes as good beeswax polish. Ours contains beeswax, canola oil and sea buckthorn oil, which makes the leather really soft and supple.
The best investment you can make when it comes to shoe care is a pair of shoe trees. Ideally you want ones made from cedar wood, as the wood absorbs some of the moisture. When we wear our shoes, they tend to bend and crease, and we end up with toes that come up too much. If you put a shoe tree in overnight, it reforms the shape of the shoe. It’s like putting it back on the last it was made on. It makes it wear better and look better.