My Summer as a Cobbler

Some may not consider the life of a cobbler to be so illustrious, but unless you make your living writing for Portlandia or tracking down colossal squid, I can assure you that my job is much more fun than yours. Because I basically get to do arts and crafts all day, with the added bonus that much of shoemaking involves giant, awesome power tools.

I have to admit that when I first started working at OESH, I was a little disappointed at the lack of opportunity to develop a deformed claw-hand or some other industrial souvenir to show off when I go back to college next month. But I’m willing to settle for a hot-glue-gun burn on one finger and a few misshapen scrapes and bruises from running into tables and stuff around the factory. Hardly the proletariat struggle I had expected factory work to be.

Regardless, cobbling here is the jam because I get to watch stacks and stacks of rubber soles and pieces of suede turn into stacks and stacks of comfortable, not to mention super foxy, sandals. We already have the soles left over from making the black and lizard Classics, so they just have to be sanded (power tool count: 1) so the glue will stick to them. Then a very lovely man named Gary uses the water-jet machine (power tool count: 2) to cut out the suede uppers.

After those dry for a day or two, one of us stamps the OESH logo into the leather with a fancy branding press thing (power tool count: 3). I take a heavy-duty, power drill-sized hot glue gun (power tool count: 4) to attach the smaller suede pieces to the big pieces for cushioning, and Gary uses some other kind of glue contraption to bond the whole uppers to the soles (power tool count: 5). Then I attach buckles onto the suede straps with a riveting press (which is my favorite part because I get to say, “Oh me, oh my, this job is so riveting!” and we all have a good chuckle) before we cut the tips of the shoes off using the water jet, to make the finished product look more sandal-y and less like a running shoe (power count: still 5, but look how resourceful we are).

Once the sandals dry off again, I use a fancy metal cobbling brush to clean up any water marks on the leather, and, if needed, trim off any weirdness on the straps with craft scissors. Finally, if the finished shoes are pretty enough to send to customers they get wrapped in tissue paper – with extra love, like a burrito or a tiny rubber-and-leather baby – and sealed with an OESH sticker. Consider them cobbled.

Each of these steps is surprisingly fun, if exhausting overall. Even though I usually pass out at home for a few hours after a long day of cobbling, it’s totally worth it because everybody who works here is so nice – not to mention that my job blessedly involves neither cats nor children.

And I think it says a lot about the company that even its newest, lowest-level employee is so proud to work here. This might be a stretch, but I think it’s fair to say that happy workers make happy shoes. Happy shoes make happy feet, and happy feet make happy people. But I should probably stop thinking so hard about the shoes and get back to making them.

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