Sebastian Tarek, owner of Sebastian Tarek Bespoke Shoes, Shoreditch
You could’ve been anything with a beard like that, why become a shoemaker?
‘Unbeknownst to me when I was growing up, I’m actually the eighteenth in a very long line of shoemakers – though it skipped the last three generations. So it’s in the blood. I was watching crap Christmas television in high school and the Danny Kaye film ‘Hans Christian Andersen’ [about a cobbler] came on. I thought: That looks like a nice life. So I did a couple of years of vocational training back in Australia, went to college and then apprenticed. But if you’re going to learn how to make shoes properly you need to go to one of the great cities for shoemaking, one of which is London.’
So what do you do all day? A load of old cobblers?
‘I do preparation work in the morning, like stitching the soles on. They take about 45 minutes each, so I do it while listening to ‘In Our Time’ on Radio 4. Then I do the heavy work after lunch. It’s physically demanding. But a ten-hour day of hard graft followed by a couple of pints isn’t such a bad life.’
It sounds a bit lonely.
‘The attention to detail that you need for these tasks is not really conducive to conversation, so it’s a bit of a solitary profession. If it’s been a full month of being alone the voices in your head do start getting loud. More often than not I’m pretty comfortable with it, though.’
Do you enjoy working with clients?
‘You have to deal with managing people’s expectations and when what they want is beyond [what will work for them]. Not everyone has a lovely-looking foot. That can be tricky, but the interaction is fantastic.’
What does someone need to become a shoemaker?
‘A great deal of patience, some resilience, a bit of grit and these days the passion to continue doing it, because it’s not an easy thing to do in the modern world. But a shoemaker’s lot is not a bad one.’
Hours Up to 60hrs p/w
Starting salary Up to £20,000 p/a
Qualifications Work experience or appropriate degree
Or why not become an armourer instead?
Interview by Eddy Frankel