Reflection - Will TikTok save the cobblers?

In an interesting turn of events, the ancient occupation that is cobblers which has been through many harsh decades, might now be saved by the most modern of phenomenon: the social media app TikTok. The past couple of years videos showcasing the transformation that cobbler’s can do on worn shoes has millions of views, and young people get their eyes open both for the magic cobblers can do and for the craft itself.


If you’re on TikTok and shoe interested, you’ve most likely seen them yourself. They often start with holding up the worn pair of shoes to the camera, showing what needs to be fixed. Then with short clips and / or fast-forwarded footage the entire recrafting process is shown in detail. Since there’s often lots of steps the videos are – by TikTok standards – quite long, usually several minutes. At the end, you normally have the classic before and after shots, same style that we are used to see in all the home improvement television shows. There’s no music, the authentic sounds of the cobbler workshop are very important. It’s a sort of ASMR (the abbreviation most of us probably have googled to understand, short for “autonomous sensory meridian response”, which nowadays doesn’t mean much more than that they give the viewer a relaxing sensation from watching).

Showcasing shoe repairs in video format online certainly isn’t new, there’s a bunch of huge accounts on for example YouTube with loads of followers, and some of those who are big on TikTok are the same on YouTube. The difference here though is that, in general, the shoe repair channels on YouTube is more of a “preaching to the choir” situation, while on TikTok these videos to a larger degree reach an audience previously not familiar with the topic.

How it often looks in the loved shoe repair TikTok videos. Picture:

How it often looks in the loved shoe repair TikTok videos. Picture: Dan the Cobbler

There’s a bunch of cobblers from around the world who share videos on TikTok, where the larger ones have over 100 000 followers and many of their videos have millions of views. They are based in the US, Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Some of them are Dan the Cobbler, Boyer’s Boot’n’Shoe , Chilicothe Bootery, Sergio Alberini, and not least America’s Cobbler, aka Jim McFarland.

Jim McFarland of McFarland’s Shoe Repair in Lakeland, Florida, has become the poster boy for this new “TikTok-cobblery segment”, an attention he surely deserves. He’s been many decades in the trade and for a long time been one of the driving forces in the cobbler industry in the US, among other things with several years on the board of directors and two terms as president of the SSIA, the Shoe Service Institute of America. His journey on TikTok started with his daughter filming a video of his work (she still do most of the filming) and uploaded it to a new TikTok channel.

Jim McFarland's, aka Americas Cobbler, TikTok page.

Jim McFarland’s, aka Americas Cobbler, TikTok page.

This was two years ago, now his most popular video has been viewed 60 million times and many others have many millions of views, he has 1,2 million followers, and also his Instagram and YouTube channels has taken off to new heights. And lately this progress in the digital world has attracted the attention of traditional media. Not only local news media, but big players like The Washington Post and NBC News.

The fact that the work of shoe repair is being spread to the masses through mass media is of course awesome, but what really can be a game changer is the audience that is reached on mainly TikTok. Young people. Young people who not only can learn to appreciate the repair work that is done, and instead of throwing away their next pair of worn shoes might bring them to a cobbler to have them fixed. But young people who see and are amazed by the craftsmanship skills that do go into a good shoe repair, the creativity that often is needed, the variety of work that is made, and so on. You can clearly see it in the comments sections, so many who say things like “I’ve been so amazed by these videos, started researching how to become a cobbler now”, and similar things.

Example of comments on a shoe repair video on TikTok. Pictures:

Example of comments on a shoe repair video on TikTok. Latest pictures: America’s Cobbler

To use two different examples. In the country I live in, in the city of Borås there were over 50 cobblers the year 1950, for a population of about 55 000 people. Almost 1 cobbler per 1,000 inhabitants. 20 years later, in the 1970’s, after cheaper cemented rubber soled shoes had taken over completely, only three remained. Still today when Borås has a population of 110 000 people, there’s only three cobblers in the city. None of them are young, and they work alone, without any apprentices.

In the US, back in the 1930’s there were around 100,000 cobblers in the country, it went down to 15,000 in 1997, to about 5,000 today. This according to SSIA. And as an article by AP a few years ago concluded, a vast majority of active cobblers are old, many will soon retire, and many have no one to hand over their workshop to. There are of course exceptions, but many more young cobblers are needed, in the USA as well as elsewhere.

In general, most good cobblers in most parts of the world are busy, they have a lot of work and hopefully they will get even more in the future when more and more people understand that we have to wear better stuff and take care of it to save the environment. But for this, there have to be good cobblers for people to take their shoes to. The chance that many potential new cobblers can be drawn to this profession through the alluring videos on TikTok is encouraging.