SHOEMAKERS: A dying breed, in a time of need
At a time when they are facing an increase in the demand for their services to repair shoes, local shoemakers are expressing concern that the profession is not attracting young people and Jamaica could soon face an acute shortage of person with this skill.
According to the shoemakers, Jamaica is seeing an influx of poorly made imported shoes and the youngsters, who will be called on to repair them, are shying away from the profession.
It is an issue which is depressing for 65-year-old Kenneth Lewis, who has been operating his shoe shop on Central Avenue in Kingston for more than 30 years.
“I am here from 1974, and there is no youth in the area from that time till now who wants to learn the trade,” said a passionate Lewis as he criticised
Jamaicans who spend thousands of dollars on imported shoes that in some cases only last three months.
“So what happen when me gone, me gone with the trade? Shoes will always be here so it will eventually end up that foreigners are going to sell us shoes fully,” said Lewis, his arms extended, as he noted the piles of imported shoes in his shop for repair.
“The shoes are not being built like how dem supposed to build. Lots of changes go on over the years. The foreigners come in with them mass production and people shoes start to tear down. New shoes burst out right after them buy. Mass production man,” added Lewis.
In his hay days, Lewis would build and sell shoes and slippers. These days, however, he limits his efforts to repairing them, stocking up on tips, buckles, soles and other items, which he said, are usually the first to wear on the imported shoes.
But while the poor quality imported shoes equals more work for him, Lewis says he often feels sorry for his clients who continue to be bilked with substandard footwear.
“Who a pass the shoes them as shoes don’t know nothing about shoe making. They just bring in a pair of shoes, it look good but it not good. Is only the looks of it, everything is man-made material. Nothing is genuine leather and from you don’t get genuine leather you don’t get anything,” he said.
Another veteran shoemaker, who also operates in Central Kingston, but asked not to be named, blamed the government for allowing the heavy importation of the substandard goods.
“In Jamaica right now you can’t find a young shoemaker who can make shoes. They are coming in it but they don’t have the genuine experience. They will chop out something and give you but they won’t last,” he said.
Paul Williams, 45, one of two shoemakers who operate at the Travellers Shoe Shop upstairs at the busy Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew, is also concerned that the trade is not attracting young persons.
“The youth them not interested in the trade. Me call one little young youth the other day and tell him to come and sit down with me and learn the trade and he was not interested. Dem young youth here only want to go dig out dem hand middle,” said Williams.
According to the Corporate Area based shoemakers who spoke with The Sunday Gleaner last week, just two weeks into the new school year they have been asked to repair dozens of shoes purchased for back-to-school.
“Since school start a nuff a dem we get to repair, more than a dozen,” said 47 year-old Dave McIntyre who also operates his business inside the Travellers Shoe Shop inside the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre.
“Already the shoes dem start tear down and in need of repair and school just start the other day. When is not break the shoes them break down, is burst them burst and need stitching.
“See this shoe here, a lady bought it and is not even two week since school open and you see how it buss up? I am going to have to bottom it now,” said the shoemaker who has been practising the craft for some 20 add years.
“The shoes them coming into the island nowadays you wear them one day and them mash up,” said Everton Carter, who has been a shoemaker for about three decades.
“What they using to build inside of the shoes is cardboard paper and the perspiration of the person inside of the shoes just causes it to crumble up. You take off the shoes and the paper leave on your foot.”
“The school shoes them we have to take out the insoles and put new insoles in them. Me gone about 15 school shoes since September, shoes that people just buy and start wear to school,” said Carter.
According to the veteran shoemaker, he has detected a growing trend where parents purchase imported shoes and then have them strengthened by local shoemakers.
He argued that a partnership between the schools, parents and some designated shoemakers may help to solve that problem.
“We need a system where parents can buy their child a shoe for even $6,000 and within three months or so if it need repairs them can carry it back to the shoemaker. And we can even give them a shoe for two third the price or even half price if them turn in back the old shoes to us. We can recycle them,” he said.
Carter said he has pitched the idea to the administrators of one school who have expressed interest.