Whenever I go to bike festivals or trade shows I can always count on seeing a handful of non-bike related booths. Now I am not the one to judge, but over the years I’ve seen booths for USB chargers, massage tools, vacation home rentals, and at this year’s Sea Otter, a recruitment booth for the Highway Patrol. Needless to say, it’s a toss up and the possibilities are endless on that end.
Then there was this giant black RV with an unmistakable yellow Vibram logo parked behind the foot bridge that the majority of visitors had to use. No, the iconic Italian rubber outsole maker is not branching out into the RV business, nor are they sponsoring a racing team. Instead, they converted their RV into a mobile shoe repair lab and sent it out on a tour around the country looking to breathe new life into your otherwise tired and boring shoes.
They called themselves the Vibram Sole Factor. I’d liken them to cobblers on wheels. Vibram invited us over for a visit and I thought, hey that’s something different to photograph besides yet another piece of carbon fiber. Here’s an inside look.
Step one: Pick your outsole. There are plenty of outsoles in different shapes and colors to choose from and the friendly staff is there to help you choose the right one.
The old outsole is then painstakingly removed like slicing a giant piece ham. Gone are the days where shoes are expected to be repaired, but the Vibram wiz cobblers can put a new outsole onto various shoe types and brands. The cobblers also enjoy the challenge presented by each repair as they all come with their own personalities.
Remnants of the old outsole are then ground away and leveled.
Master cobbler Gino Conti, right, inspects a shaved down Blundstone. The Bronx native is a second generation cobbler who has been in the business for 50 years and runs Warwick Cobbler in Warwick, New York.
Cobbler Gino Gentile hard at work preparing a new outsole for gluing. Gentile is a 40-year veteran cobbler who normally runs Anthony’s Shoe Service in San Francisco.
A cramped, but organized work bench where they can churn out 20+ daily repairs.
Some of the tools used by the three cobblers
Shawn the apprentice brushes adhesives onto an outsole as the two Ginos talk about a repair.
Foot lasts of various shapes and sizes
Gino shows how the vacuum shoe press works.
A well-worn Five Ten getting some much needed TLC.
Gino in between repairs.
Gluing a new outsole onto a Birkenstock sandal
Trimming the excess outsole with a cutter
And finish the trimming manually with a knife and some elbow grease.
The cobblers on wheels.