Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Case for the Basics: Shoe Repair, Alterations, and Other Lost Arts

All three pairs of shoes were purchased at roughly the same time two years ago.

Shoe #1 (top left): Rust colored kitten-heel spectator pumps, purchased in Manila for US$13. Repaired for US$9 at a shoe repair shop on Pensacola Street after the rubber on the heels got scuffed badly, plus $4 for the new insoles.

Shoe #2: (right): Wood slides from Rustan's in Manila, purchased for roughly US$10. Repaired for $18.25 at Tam's Shoe Repair in Kaimuki after the rubber on both outsole and heel were badly damaged; by the time I brought it to the repair shop, the soles looked like melting asphalt. Extent of repair: Replaced original smooth rubber with more weatherproof treads. (This isn't the first time I brought shoes to Tam's, either; I always bring my wood shoes to them.)

Shoe #3 (bottom left): Faux-suede faux-Chucks from Airwalk for Payless, purchased on sale at $9. Repaired rubber outsole for $6 at K's Shoe Repair on Keeaumoku street.

Total repairs for all three: $23.25 - roughly the sale price of another pair of shoes from Nordstrom Rack after deep discounts.


Here's the thing: We're living in interesting times right now, when the economy is at an all time low and consumer goods are at their most disposable. On the one hand, we could justify expensive buys by paying for good artisanship in the first place... but where does that leave the actual artisans who are already working locally?

As a city, Honolulu is no stranger to the concept of shoe cobblers; tons of Manolos and Cole Haans have passed through back-alley shops for much-needed repairs, sometimes with the secrecy reserved for off-shore plastic surgeons. Not that many of their owners will admit to that in the first place, but let's not kid ourselves about this city; it's not just the weather and the economy that have made this place unsuitable for the fine shoes favored by the power elite.

And I'll admit that I'm working with an almost-Third World mentality here by taking my shoes to cobblers when I should be buying new ones in the first place. The thought of throwing away perfectly wearable shoes is horrible for me; only if I was at risk of injuring myself (ie. slipping or spraining an ankle) would I definitely consider bagging them and putting them away. Part of this mentality also comes from my parents, whose collective taste in fine Italian leather goods have pushed me towards choosing styles that are classic and practical at the same time; those much-loved Bally boots and cork platforms would never have survived being in the same house with three kids without the help of a crafty repairman or two.

The same deal holds true for clothes, too. I know that fashion experts always talk about tailoring and alteration to get the perfect fit, but I'll bet you that the great majority of shoppers would rather get something that fits great off the rack. Good luck to that, I say; as a short person of bountiful curves, even my best-fitting pairs of jeans have gone under the knife (or the shears) to keep me from tripping and trailing over my hems. It's not even a complicated process to begin with, either; we're talking about a starting rate of $8 for hemming and $5 for replacing buttons. And now that I've lost some weight, I'm ready to have more of my pants taken in so I won't be walking around adjusting my belt every 0.5 seconds. True, I could've bought a new pair with all the money I'm spending on tailoring - but that's still money well spent when you consider how it's all going to fit in the end.

Moral of the story: Support local business by finding the nearest cobbler for your shoes and a tailor/seamstress for your clothes. Your wardrobe will thank you.

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