Seychelles’ capital of Victoria has only two shoe cobblers left. Both men work alone and do not have someone to replace them, so the future of the profession is under threat.
Armantal Lespoir has his own shoe repair business near Sir Selwyn’s Clark Market – the main market- and Flavien Alphonse owns the Island Shoe Repair in the same building as Deepam Cinema in the capital.
They are both concerned about the fact that there are no young people showing interest to continue the trade and the ones who actually turn up to try do not stay very long.
Lespoir learned the techniques of how to repair shoes when he was at primary school at Bel Ombre when he was 11 years old. His parents encouraged him to find a job, so he chose shoe repair.
His mentor was the late George Anmede, a well-known shoe cobbler in the island’s capital, who also taught Alphonse the trade.
“I had a brother who knew how to repair shoes and another learned the technique of how to preserve the body of a dead animal so that it can be kept by their owner. l know both”, said Lespoir.
Lespoir says that during his childhood he regularly went to Anmede’s workshop and worked with him until he completed his studies, after that he decided to get into the business of agriculture at Mare aux Cochon. Later, he changed his career and became a driver at the Indian Ocean Tuna (IOT) company.
According to Lespoir, Anmede approached him to come work for him again and he refused, suggesting that Anmede sells him the business when he no longer can work.
One day that wish came true and Anmede sold the business to him. He moved into the workshop near the Central Police Station and then moved to his workshop inside Sir Selwyn’s Clark Market. Today his workshop is further down Market Street, where he is always busy.His work is well respected by his clients and he finds pleasure in providing quality repair for their shoes.
“Sometimes I meet people who has a brand-new shoe that they’ve worn only once either to a funeral or their wedding and the sole comes off, and they bring them to me, when its fixed they really appreciate it but there are some clients who are complicated but the majority of people appreciate my work,” he said.
Today, Lespoir faces many challenges including the lack of raw materials in Seychelles, so he has to import everything from Mauritius. But his greatest concern is the fact that young people are not showing interest in this kind of work.
“Everyday people wear shoes, there will always be shoes, we repair bags as well but I need someone who will take over when I retire and at the moment, I can’t see anyone,” he laments.
Lespoir said that his heart is open to teaching anyone who wants to learn the trade but that they need to be serious so that there continue to be shoe cobblers in Victoria after he retires.