Thunder Bay cobbler brings home two trophies after international competition

A local shoe repair craftsman in Thunder Bay, Ont. is celebrating two big awards from a European shoemakers competition that highlights the quality of the craft and puts technical skills to the test in the field of custom made shoes and repairs.

Martin Sugg won a silver and bronze at the 2018 European Shoemaker Contest

Owner of Timeless Shoe Repair, Martin Sugg, won a silver and bronze trophy from the 2018 European Shoemaker Contest in the Netherlands earlier this month. (Martin Sugg)

A local shoe repair craftsman in Thunder Bay, Ont. is celebrating two big awards from a European shoemakers competition.

The competition puts technical skills to the test in the field of custom made shoes and repairs.

Martin Sugg is the owner of Timeless Shoe Repair, a repair store that restores worn out leather shoes, belts and purses.

Hosted by the Dutch Shoemakers Association, Sugg brought home a silver and bronze trophy from the 2018 European Shoemakers Contest that took place earlier this month in the Netherlands.

"Many different countries, with the exception of Canada, have their own shoe repair associations and once a year or once every couple of years, they have a big conference and a contest and you repair shoes and they judge you and they hand out awards at their convention," Sugg explained.

He said because this is an international conference that's open to entrants from around the world, judges don't expect competitors to attend the actual competition. Instead, competitors are given a list of requirements and a time line of 6 months to complete the final submission.

"I entered two categories," Sugg said. "The first category they required two pairs of men's shoes ... and then the other category was called the specials category and they required a ladies boot or shoe."

Sugg submitted a total of three pairs of shoes for the competition and won a bronze medal for the main category while scoring the silver award for the specials section.

Networking with other shoe makers

About six months after Sugg opened his repair store in Thunder Bay, he said he came across a private Facebook group with other shoe makers and shoe repairers. Since that time, the Shoe Repair International group has been an "incredible resource to [my] craft and [my] business."

"We talk shop and discuss techniques, tips and tricks and ideas and we share pictures of our work and we critique each other, " Sugg said, "and since I've found them ... I've learned more about my craft than I did my whole 10 years prior."

In fact, he said he would have never known about any of these competitions if it hadn't been for the members of that Facebook group.

Building credibility through competitions

Sugg said in Canada, shoe repairing is not a recognized trade, which is why he's never received any formal training and has had to build his skills and knowledge through years of experience.

Sugg entered these pair of ladies boots and received a silver trophy. (Martin Sugg)

"I never went to school to learn how to be a shoe repair person. I don't have a diploma that I can hang on the wall," Sugg explained, "so my aim in trying to score awards in these competitions is to just gain a little bit of credibility."

"In lieu of a diploma on the wall that says that I'm certified to do this, I have a trophy in my cabinet that says somebody who knows what they are doing thinks that they know what I'm doing."

Sugg said although the shoe-repair trade is not the most popular industry, he is seeing an upward trend with the "younger generation being aware of the environment more," and wanting to get things repaired to stretch out the life of them instead of just tossing them into the landfill.

"I think my industry is most likely going to see some pretty good growth in the next couple of decades," Sugg said.

Which is why he makes sure he always has a spot available for any high school students who are interested in being an intern and learning the trade.

He said as long as people wear shoes, a repair person will always be needed.

"It's an honest craft and an honest business," Sugg said. "If you are artistic and you like to express yourself creatively and you enjoy working with your hands and dealing with people, this would be a great opportunity for somebody."

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