East Van entrepreneurs bring leatherwork and shoe repair into the modern era

Made in Vancouver is a collaboration between Vancity and Daily Hive. Together, we focus on local companies, organizations and individuals who help create a healthy local economy.

Western Canada’s only women – owned and Canada’s only queer – owned custom leather and shoe workshop is located right here in Vancouver.

Awl Together Leather is a full-service leather workshop owned by Tess Gobeil and Ariss Grutter. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign that coincided with the opening of the studio, Awl Together opened its doors at 101 – 1183 Odlum Drive near Commercial Drive in May 2021.

Vancity has supported people in our community since 1946, as have local entrepreneurs. As part of our Made in Vancouver series focusing on local businesses, we spoke with Tess Gobeil, co-owner of Awl Together Leather, about how their store gives back to the community. Learn more about what Vancity does in your community at vancity.com

“Awl Together Leather was born out of the huge demand for a public leather studio that offers leather upholstery changes, bag repairs, shoe service, custom leather work and re-dyeing work,” Gobeil told the Daily Hive. “We came together during COVID-19 to visualize what a safe, long-term leather study would look like. Together, we realized that we valued supportive work environments with improved ventilation and a focus on environmental sustainability.

“We decided on the name Awl Together, as it’s a pun on our collective values ​​as well as our favorite tool – an awl is a pointed tool used to punch holes in leather and soles.”

Gobeil and Grutter was inspired to open their store after working for a number of Vancouver leather employers. They first met while working together at a local boot manufacturer. It was there that the couple formed a strong bond as underrepresented leather workers who wanted to rid the industry of sexism and unstable work environments.

Syl Together Leather

Awl Together Leather co-owner Ariss Grutter (Erin Flegg Photography / Sent)

“We were able to see what worked, what didn’t work, and where things could be improved,” Gobeil explained. “There are not many women or queer-owned stores in Canada, let alone the industry in general. We were definitely inspired by some of the stores that came before us and that made it seem possible, such as Lo at Sole Survivor in Toronto and Julie at JD’s Shoe Repair in Oregon. ”

In the first six months, Awl Together has served over 1,000 customers and performed over 3,100 individual repairs and special tasks. Gobeil and Grutter have also volunteered with The Learnary and Vancouver Repair Collective as well as donated a large amount of scrap and waste.

Awl Together services include minor upholstery tasks (“A chair but not a sofa”) and heavy textile repairs and alterations to denim, waxed canvas and more. Gobeil and Grutter also handcraft leather goods for purchase in their Odlum Drive studio, on their webshop, at live events and in Sebs Café and Corner Store. The Italian-trained shoemaker Amy Slosky is also based from the Awl Together studio.

The store currently offers private 1-on-1 leather work mentorships and hopes to host personal leather lessons in the summer of 2022.

We offer services that are otherwise very challenging to find in Vancouver or BC, ”Gobeil explained. “Most shoe repairers do not work with leather clothing, and most leather clothing tailors / repairers do not work with shoes. Not because of a lack of interest, but the machinery required is very different.

“But we are interdisciplinary leather workers and offer all possible services in one studio. Every repair really informs about the future work, so it felt important for us not to limit ourselves based on how other stores work. “

Syl Together Leather

Awl Together Leather co-owner Tess Gobeil (Erin Flegg Photography / Sent)

Awl Together also strives to bring leatherwork and shoe repair into the modern era with an increased focus on environmental sustainability as well as the employment of underrepresented and marginalized leatherworkers.

“First and foremost, our goal is to try to encourage sustainability and a less wasteful way of life,” Gobeil said. “Many millennials have never considered repairing or changing shoes or a leather upholstery, perhaps in part because there is so much misinformation about what is and is not possible with leather itself. We like to spend time informing customers and the public if this means that another object is being diverted from the landfill.

“Our second goal is to repair our industry from the inside out. Currently, 82 percent of shoemakers in BC are over 45, and 82 percent are also men. In the next 20 years, we expect many of these store owners are likely to go on retire and either close their doors or sell their business.

“We are committed to seeing our industry shift into a more sustainable future with a greater representation of repairers. We aim to educate and launch a new wave of leather workers that reflects the diversity of our city.”

Syl Together Leather

Awl Together Leather co-owners Tess Gobeil and Ariss Grutter (Erin Flegg Photography / Sent)

Gobeil also wants to empower others creators, artists and leather workers in starting their own business by sharing their own experiences.

When we finally opened Awl Together Leather, it was only possible because of many years of basic work. It certainly did not happen overnight, “said Gobeil. “We have been very lucky, all things considered. It has been difficult and tiring at times to work in a customer-facing company during the pandemic.”

“We would recommend that everyone starts small, to test what the appetite is for the niche you are trying to fill. In our case, we realized that the demand was high, as leather work – and leather tailoring in particular – is in great demand. ”

Leave a Comment