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Revitalizing the cobbler profession

Fine arts alumna Tess Gobeil sets out to repair a male-dominated industry with Awl Together Leather
July 14, 2021
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By Molly Hamilton

Tess Gobeil, standing in her cobbler studio “Concordia gave me the confidence to want to be a part of the art community,” says Tess Gobeil, who started Awl Together Leather in hopes of reinvigorating the cobbler industry. | Photo: Erin Flegg

With shops, restaurants and salons forced to close or work at a reduced capacity over the past year, the pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges for a majority of businesses across Canada.

For Tess Gobeil, BFA 15, and her business partner Ariss Grutter, however, it was an opportunity to open their new shop Awl Together Leather. Opened May 4, 2021, in Gobeil’s hometown of Vancouver, the studio is devoted to leatherwork, shoe repair and custom creations.

Concordia gave me the confidence to want to be a part of the art community,” Gobeil says. “Being surrounded by other artists who are living their best dream, living their art fantasies, gave me the confidence to come home and be like ‘let's make an art community here.’”

Being young, female and queer, Gobeil and Grutter are a unique duo in the cobbler industry. According to WorkBC, 82 per cent of cobblers in British Columbia are male, with the majority over the age of 45 and eyeing retirement.

Tess Gobeil and her business partner, in their studio With sky-high Vancouver rents and the precariousness of the pandemic, the Awl Together Leather founding team of Tess Gobeil, BFA 15, (right) and her business partner Ariss Grutter launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to help get their business off the ground. In 36 hours, they raised $10,000. | Photo: Erin Flegg

“We're hoping to make a place in Vancouver where people can get trained and either start their own business or join our team,” she says. “It's not an industry nor a skill set that we want to see disappear.”

As more people look to extend the life of their quality leather goods and shoes rather than buying new, Gobeil and Grutter set out to provide many leather-related services including shoe repair, re-dyes, restoration, small goods manufacturing and garment alterations.

The shop is also home to Italian-trained shoemaker Amy Slosky who offers locally made custom shoes and boots.

‘I knew I wanted to work with my hands’

Tess Gobeil works at a sewing machine From papermaking to book binding, printmaking and now shoe repair and shoemaking, Gobeil attributes her adaptability to her time at Concordia.

Once graduated from Concordia’s Department of Studio Arts, Gobeil spent some time working at Saint-Armand, a Montreal-based paper mill and producer of handmade papers.

“I realized that as much as I love making paper, I didn't love being wet all day. You are working with big tubs of water and even when you're wearing a full apron and gumboots every day, your pants are still somehow wet all the time,” Gobeil remembers.

Knowing she wanted to be an artist, Gobeil took some time to make a list of everything she was looking for in a career.

“I knew I wanted to work with my hands, and that I wanted to do something relevant to my degree,” Gobeil says.

With a little bit of serendipity, she called a Vancouver-based cobbler at the right moment when he was hiring and Gobeil had a planned trip home.

After spending three and a half years learning the ins-and-outs of shoe repair and running a business, Gobeil also learned the art of shoemaking at a separate factory. She was finally ready to open her own custom leatherwork and shoe-repair shop.

From papermaking to book binding, printmaking and now shoe repair and shoemaking, Gobeil attributes her adaptability to her time at Concordia.

“I've always been someone who has dabbled in many skills. I was never really great about picking one,” she says. “The fact that Concordia offered a program that enabled me to do exactly that was fantastic.”

Know a Concordia grad with an interesting story? We’d love to hear it. Email us at magazine@concordia.ca.



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