Mr. Contur, do you always look at people’s shoes first?
Ibrahim Contur: Yes, that it is an occupational disease. No matter where I am – whether on an underground train or in my shop. Shoes say a lot about the person who is wearing them.
How did you come to be a shoe repairer?
Ibrahim Contur: In 1994 I took over the shop from my father, a former tailor who came to Germany as an immigrant worker in the 1970s. The first thing I did back then was to get out a jig saw and cut a shoe straight through the middle. I was thus able to see what the shoe looked like on the inside and learn how it was put together.
… In other words: learning by doing?
Ibrahim Contur: That’s right! I did not undergo any vocational training, but my interest was great and I simply tried things out. For example, I bought shoes for very little money from flea markets and practised on them. I have come to know many an “Old Master” in my lifetime, and so I never lacked anyone to ask. Thus I gained access to the know-how. This access, love for the craft and my own strength of will made a good shoe repairer out of me.
Are you able to save every shoe?
Ibrahim Contur: Almost every one. I am always honest with my customers. Sometimes it is simply not worth one’s while to repair a shoe as it would soon go to pieces again. But if I accept a shoe, I repair it. I have seldom bitten off more than I could chew in that respect.
Do some customers pay more for the repairs than the shoe actually cost in the first place?
Ibrahim Contur: That happens very often. Many of my customers are emotionally attached to their shoes, either because they are heirlooms or a perfect fit, extremely comfortable or have an ideal heel. As the shoe repairer, I imagine that they are my shoes and handle them with great care.
What should one bear in mind when buying a pair of shoes?
Ibrahim Contur: If you ask one of us shoe repairers, we will tell you: “Buy leather shoes.” They can be looked after and easily repaired. And tailors might answer: “Cotton is the best material”. But people, of course, do not pay any attention to such advice, as it is a matter of taste. What it boils down to in the end is that everyone should buy shoes that they like. Of course, good material is better for repairs, but people should also enjoy wearing their shoes.
Shoe repairer Ibrahim Contur
What is your tip for looking after shoes at home?
Ibrahim Contur: Shoes should be taken regular care of. In the case of leather shoes one might pick up a glass of water and pour its contents over the shoes. If the water pearls off, everything is fine. If the water soaks in, the shoe requires care and attention. The solution in this case is glossy shoe polish or matt leather grease.
What is your own particular trick?
Ibrahim Contur: Nail varnish. It fixes things where needed on, for example, if the coating of patent leather shoes has been chipped away by cobblestones. I tried that out once, and it worked extremely well, so I stayed with that. You have an enormous range of colours to choose from when buying nail varnish from drug stores, and they are not particularly expensive either. Doses dry off quickly and one only needs a very little.
Thank you very much for this interview!
Photos © Felix Seyfert