Goods and Services Are Redefining Cobbling
The eternally optimistic California spring sunshine, an aphrodisiac to dreamers from across the globe, is beaming through the window of Goods and Services' downtown Los Angeles atelier, but even the warm SoCal weather, chirping birds and hum of a nearby beer hall don't distract Rory Fortune and his two-member team from their work. The good-natured, gravely-voiced Fortune and his fellow cobblers are charging headlong into Goods and Services' dozens of custom orders – from adding a Vibram outsole to the PEACEMINUSONE x Nike Kwondo 1 to completely revamping the bottom half of an OG 2004 Air Max 90 'Bacon' – and the only thing that's not in harmony with their hammers, seam rippers and machines is the abstract jazz playing from the speakers.
Fortune started cobbling and shoe repairing as a hobby when he was working in fashion, but his hobby-turned-passion has now evolved into a thriving business with a five-week-long waiting list for orders and a knack for artful custom sneakers with hand-made welt soles. If you head over to their Instagram page, you'll see everything from boot-ified takes on the STASH x Nike Air Force 1 High 'Tokyo' and Air Jordans made with hand-cut veg tan leather soles to the most elevated Merrell Hydro Mocs you'll ever lay eyes on!
Goods and Services invited Sneaker Freaker into their workspace for an afternoon to witness their process from concept to creation (we watched the above-mentioned 'Bacon' take on a whole new life), discuss how cobbling has changed and what it needs to do to survive in the future and explain the unique pocket of sneaker culture they've found themselves in.
How did Goods and Services come to be?
I’m from California but I moved to New York to work in the fashion industry, doing design and product development. I had a friend who owned a shoe repair shop, and he taught me the basics of cobbling. It was initially a hobby, but then I got a weekend job at a repair shop to learn more and grow my network. I was still working my day job in the fashion industry, but really fell in love with shoe repair and cobbling, and realized I wanted to do it full-time.
I started off by using a single patch machine I had used to do simple customs in my spare time. I started selling a few pairs to customers in Japan as a side hustle and setting aside money to open a shop, but then my son was born so my wife and I said ‘f*ck it, let’s open the business now. Life is short.’
Where did the idea to fuse traditional cobbling and sneakers come from?
My friend who taught me was more of an old-school cobbler, so I learned traditional cobbling methods and techniques from him. Meanwhile, due to my day job in the menswear world, I noticed that people were beginning to move away from hard-bottom dress shoes and boots. You’d see guys spend thousands of dollars on Visvims and Hender Schemes instead of more traditionally ‘luxe’ footwear like Gucci loafers and Allen Edmonds shoes. Those two experiences made me realize that there might be room for a hybrid sneaker-repair-slash-cobbler business.
So you noticed the definition of 'luxury' was changing?
Yes! With how crazy the resell market is these days, people will shell out huge sums for a specific pair of sneakers and treat them like luxury footwear. I don’t know if traditional footwear categories even apply anymore. In the past, you’d get a fine pair of dress shoes and take care of them by having them treated and resoled. Now, though, people will shell out crazy cash for a pair of sneakers and wear them until the soles crumble. Sneakers aren’t really designed to last the same way dress shoes are, but these pairs cost so much and hold so much sentimental value that people are willing to spend money to extend their favourite sneaker's life span and make it into something new.,
What were the early days of Goods and Services like? Did you have a lot of sneaker lovers coming in off the jump, or was it people looking to get their Red Wings and Danners re-soled at first?
Our business wasn’t as specific back then as it was today. We did a little bit of everything, from cleaning shoes to customising, restoring and re-soling. The end goal was to be able to spend all our time on bespoke rebuilding projects instead of restoration and cleaning, and it thankfully became the main thing pretty quickly.
What’s the difference between the restoration customer and the rebuild customer?
Different attitudes and different personalities. The restoration customer usually buys and wears shoes that have certain stories and types of marketing around them. There’s often an attachment to these shoes, and an unwillingness to accept that at the end of the day they're objects made of polyurethane, rubber and leather that aren't built to last. I don’t want to sound disparaging, but an old cobblers' adage I've often had to tell people is ‘you can’t make an old shoe look new.’ The restoration guy usually wants his shoe to look like it came right off a factory belt, and though we do offer re-soling services we don’t do restorations anymore because we want to focus on rebuilds.
The rebuild customer is usually more open to a wabi-sabi aesthetic and loves that the shoe they hold close to their heart is being given new life by hand. Sneakers aren’t made using cobbling equipment, they’re mass-produced in factories. If you’re going to use the kind of equipment we have on sneakers, they have to be rebuilt and turned into something different, not restored to something resembling their original state. Someone who’s looking for a rebuild understands that. If you look over there [gestures to a corner of the studio], George [an SGS team member] is burnishing leather for a pair we’re working on. That’s like old-school wallet and belt-making craftsmanship. What we do is equal parts shoemaking, shoe repair and leathercraft.
Do you get a lot of customers that are just over the nature of ‘hype culture’ and want something more lasting?
We sure do. They’re what I call ‘recovering sneakerheads’ [laughs].
The same type of people that have grown out of wearing clothes that say ‘f*ck’ on them?
That’s exactly it. It’s someone who still loves sneakers whole-heartedly and is passionate about product, but doesn’t want to keep up with releases and isn’t the type of person to buy a shoe, wear it once for a photo and put it back in the box. They’d prefer something a bit more bespoke instead of something that anyone can go into a store and buy or shell out resell prices for.
For the people that may not understand, we’d love to hear how the process of re-soling and upgrading a sneaker is different from the process of re-soling a dress shoe.
I’d compare a dress shoe to a car. What I mean by that is that cars are built in a way that, when something is wrong, you can take the car to the mechanic and figure out what needs to be fixed or replaced. On a Goodyear-welted shoe, the upper, the welt, the midsole and the outsole are all fully replaceable. A sneaker isn’t made like that. Sneakers have a simple cemented construction that secures the upper to the midsole – and an outsole that’s rarely replaceable. They’re made to be worn down and disposed of, not taken apart, so revamping them requires a unique skill set. What we do is take that cement sneaker construction and convert it to a Goodyear-style welt construction. Once it has that welted leather midsole instead of a polyurethane midsole, it can be re-soled and taken apart over and over again, just like a traditional shoe.
Would you say you’re upcycling?
One hundred per cent. Obviously, our services are not cheap, but once we put that welted midsole on a shoe you can have it re-soled over as many times as you please – as long as you maintain the condition of the upper. It’s not like a traditional sneaker that you have to toss once the outsole and midsole are worn down.
What about the business has surprised you the most?
Man, that’s a good question. I guess how quickly people took to our bespoke resoles. I thought we’d have to do a lot more traditional cobbling, customising and repair. There are guys in Japan and Europe who offer similar services, but nobody in the US does it as we do.
What’s the wackiest project you’ve ever worked on?
[Grabs an all-black adidas Forum with a hard plastic sole off a shelf behind him]. These are spin shoes. I’ve never done a spin shoe before! The customer brought in a pair of Shimano shoes he uses for cycling class and asked if we could transfer the bottom to the Forum because it’s his favourite sneaker. A while back, I also Frankenstein-ed a Rick Owens x adidas Springblade outsole onto a Y-3 Qasa! I love to encourage people to try something funky, and if they’ve got an idea I’ll do my damndest to bring it to fruition.
How do you think a cobbler fits into the modern-day world of footwear, and what do you think the next generation of cobblers is going to look like?
Today cobbling is a luxury when in the past it was a proletarian service that was as common as dry cleaning. That’s partially because of the rise of fast fashion. The average person won’t want to pay $40 to have the broken sole of a $70 dress shoe repaired, but the sneakerhead who likes having something unique will be willing to pay a few hundred dollars to have a custom sole added to their favourite kicks. The future will be more restorations and bespoke detailing than pure repair, and the shops that are doing well understand that!