University of Dead Arts – The Blog

University of Dead Arts – The Blog

Learn about all those Weird arts and apprenticeships that are now obsolete in our modern age.


I have a friend called Robert, who is a Trade Certified Cobbler. That is to say he did an apprenticeship with Clark shoes and studied at the Douglas Mawson TAFE on Richmond road, Adelaide, South Australia.

When he told me about his career I was fascinated. I felt this skill would be invaluable if you had a large family, which Robert dose.

I know that I would love to be able to make my own shoes.

Robert now works in the Technology industry installing software for other businesses which often sees him traversing the world.

So, in search of Cobbler skills I have been on an interesting research journey.

History of the Craft:

The earliest shoe prototypes were soft, made from wraparound leather, and resembled either sandals or moccasins. … Up until 1850, shoes were made straight, meaning that there was no differentiation from left and right shoes. As the twentieth century approached, shoemakers improved comfort by making foot-specific shoes.

People would often make shoes from home and then trade them at meeting places. As society developed the market meeting places became the main street. Trade people would live in their houses on main street and trade out the front of their homes. They then moved the street stalls into the front of their homes and this concept that we recognise today of main street in rural communities like my home town of Strathalbyn.

As time moved on and demand increased the implementation of mechanisation secured the productivity and mass production of shoe making.

Alas, even though mass production met the need and there were lots of great looking shoes available, the workmanship would let them down. Bright shiny new shoes, but in need of regular replacing.

Hand skills in this field are now part of what is defined as a ‘niche market’.

“A niche market is the subset of the market on which a specific product is focused. The market niche defines as the product features aimed at satisfying specific market needs, as well as the price range, production quality and the demographics that is intended to impact. It is also a small market segment.” Wiki

So in short, hand made ‘things’ last longer. You train longer to perfect your skills. They take longer to make. Therefore, they cost more. But, They last longer. As an added bonus, items that are hand made are usually unique. So you will feel exclusive when you use or wear them, its all part of the service.