A small shoe repair shop in the east of England has become a favorite among British celebrities and sports stars who need their fancy sneakers, heels, and flats repaired.
Boston, Lincolnshire-based Shoe Lab started in January 2020 as a local cobbler that cleaned Adidas Gazelles for £10 ($12). Now it’s a UK-wide service that fixes up hundreds of pairs of Gucci, Balenciaga, and Louis Vuitton shoes every week.
Shoe Lab’s success comes from its addictively satisfying videos depicting the process of repairing £5,000 Christian Dior SE sneakers and £900 Christian Louboutin SAS heels for its 50,000 Instagram followers. Almost every day, the shop revives worn-out Balenciaga logos and tattered Gucci tennis sneakers, garnering praise from celebrities like singer Kerry Katona, Love Island star Joe Garratt, and England cricket captain Ben Stokes, as well as style and fitness influencers with millions of followers.
The work is highly skilled and laborious. Head of painting Andreia Pacheco, who also makes Shoe Lab’s Instagram videos, says she can spend 20 minutes fixing a single Alexander McQueen logo.
Shoe Lab’s founders operate on the belief that many major luxury footwear brands aren’t interested in making their shoes last, which has created an opportunity for the repair shop. Co-founder Luke Goodyear, 30, says he will never buy a pair of sneakers from Axel Arigato — he says they fall apart — or from Burberry Group PLC, whose ink has a tendency to run.
“The spikes on the Louboutin trainers are coming off all the time,” says co-founder Kye Overton. “Somebody messaged the other week saying 25 spikes had fallen off,” all from a single pair. That’s about a quarter of the 100 or so spikes that come on new shoes.
“Even though people are paying £1,000 for shoes, like these Diors, the dye can run in them,” adds Darren Overton, 55, a business partner and Kye’s father. “You’d think if you’ve paid £1,000, the ink wouldn’t run.” (Representatives from Burberry, Christian Dior, Christian Louboutin, and Axel Arigato did not return requests for comment.)
The Shoe Lab owners have found that the best repeat business comes from Louboutin owners. Customers wear them out on the town “once, and the red comes off,” says Kye. Others will “save all year to get them, so they’ll ask for red protective film on the bottom,” he adds. The distinctive sole is of utmost importance. “You’ll never see a girl on social media wearing Louboutins standing still. They’ll all be doing this,” he says, lifting his leg to show the rear of the shoe.
Some customers send dozens of pairs of shoes at a time for repair. Much of the footwear is well loved, well worn, and well used—a £5,000 pair of Dior sneakers were repaired after being damaged while skateboarding — but lots of work comes from fixing other companies’ substandard repair jobs or customer mistakes.
Owners of spiked sneakers often try to glue them back on with huge dabs of shop-bought superglue, which inevitably smears and smudges the finish. “That happens all the time,” observes Kye Overton. Putting shoes in a washing machine is another big no-no—and an opportunity for Shoe Lab. “It totally ruins the suede,” Overton says, noting the mark of the material when it’s healthy: “We’ll brush it all back up so you can see your fingers brushing it back again.”
Goodyear gets particularly excited about the prospect of people wearing their trainers at muddy music festivals and the subsequent demand for his services. But he knows Shoe Lab customers are primarily traipsing around the King’s Road, not charging through a Tough Mudder.
The team is bewildered by how fast the company has grown and the total number of shoes they repair every day, some 50-plus pairs. Kye, a self-described “shoe addict,” says he owns £35,000 worth of shoes and constructed shelving around his bed that’s designed to show them off. “The world has gone mad. Kids nowadays because Alexander McQueens for Christmas,” he says. And when they get damaged, Shoe Lab will be there to fix them up.
By Conrad Quilty-Harper