Tim Gleig getting his photo taken
Arielle Richards for VICE
VICE Magazine

Keeping the Art Form of Shoemaking Alive

Throughout the 20th century, Australia's shoemaking and cobbler scene was vibrant. What happened?
Arielle Richards
Melbourne, AU

You can tell everything you need to know about a person by their shoes. 

Tim Gleig knows it’s true. Unsurprisingly – he’s a cordwainer. A shoemaker. A cobbler. He’s the founder and sole maker of Two Five Footwear, a Melbourne-based custom shoemaking brand.

“The shoe is what makes your outfit,” he said when we met at his Coburg Workshop. “I think shoes are the one piece for most people that say a lot about their personality, and their identity. It’s through their footwear.”


In a rickety wooden shed nestled in the backyard of Tim’s house, Two Five Footwear HQ was a mess of brightly coloured vintage machinery, sheets of pebbled leather, thread, pins, coils of rubber, foot moulds and samples scattered everywhere. Above the shuttered saloon doors at the shed’s far end hung a fabric banner declaring TWO FIVE FOOTWEAR in hand-painted capitals. 

the craftman's flatlay: chaos. photo by arielle richards.

the craftman's flatlay: chaos. photo by arielle richards.

The tiny room was every part the stereotypical shoemaker’s studio – Gepetto’s workshop in a West Coburg granny flat – but instead of a wisened old peanut of a man tinkering at the work desk, there was Tim. 

“There's so many samples I've gone through,” he said. “The first stuff I ever did was trash.” 

A chipper English bloke, tattooed, tall and burly, Tim is somewhere around his late 20s, early 30s, if I had to guess. If I’d seen him on the street, handmade shoes would be the last profession I’d expect to see him in. It’s the last profession I’d expect to see anyone under the age of 65 in. Shoemaking is a dying craft.

After moving from the UK to Melbourne in 2019, Tim bought the machines crammed in the workshop from a litany of retired craftspeople across the city.

“Over a few years, I just went around and heard all these cool stories from the old shoemakers who were selling their machines, who were like, ‘Oh, we were doing this in Collingwood for 30 years’ or ‘We had a factory in Brunswick for 20 years’.”


“This sole press,” he said, gesturing to a baby blue machine in the studio’s far left corner, “the dude made it by hand in Italy and brought it over when he first moved here. I don’t really need that machine any more, but I can’t get rid of it now.”

Pointing to another machine, this one bold yellow, he said: “That press over there, I got off a guy named George in Bentleigh, and he – George – invented the first Hoover backpack. He made it and invented it years ago. I was like what?

Australia has a rich history in shoemaking. Throughout the 20th century, the industry was vibrant, until it was cruelled by tariff cuts in the 1980s and free-trade deals throughout the 2000s, opening the floodgate for low-cost overseas products.

Few footwear factories survive in Melbourne, but a handful of sole traders, Tim included, have been keeping the dream alive.

“Footwear is one of the industries where I feel like it’s not understood, so it’s not respected,” said Tim. 

“With mass-production, it’s the one that’s been hit the hardest, because people are like, ‘I can buy a pair of sneakers for $150 bucks, or a pair of shoes for $200, so what’s the point?’”

In Melbourne, the niche carved out by small businesses and artisanal craftspeople has expanded in recent years. People invest in handmade jewellery, handmade clothes, knitwear and accessories – but when it comes to footwear, Tim said it hasn’t been replicated.


It isn’t hard to guess why. “Leather isn’t cheap,” Tim laughs. Nor are vintage, Italian-made sole presses, tools, machinery, rubber, wooden mouldings and hours spent sewing, glueing and hand-stitching. You really have to love the craft.

Tim studied shoe design at the London College of Fashion, but his career drifted into “computer stuff”. Just before Melbourne’s first lockdown he decided to get back into shoemaking. And, suddenly, he had a lot of time. 

“Then I just started re-learning, teaching myself how to do stuff again,” he said. “How to make patterns, how to sew, built a workshop out of our spare room. The process was all just through trial and error. That's why I think it's such a hard thing to get into, and not many people do it, because it's a lot of trial and error. And the more you do, the better you get.

“The thing with footwear is that when you're taught, especially when I did it at London College of Fashion, you're taught a very traditional way of footwear, and in the footwear field, being snobby, and kind of pretentious, and our ego that goes with ‘artisan, handcrafted, I’m the best … I do this the proper way’ – it kind of kills creativity and ‘playing about’. 

“So I just played about literally, to relearn, just played about with ideas.”

tim's feet donning two five footwear. He keeps his shit on him. photo by arielle richards.

tim's feet donning two five footwear. He keeps his shit on him. photo by arielle richards.

Tim says that trying to not sound like a douche when explaining to people that you offer handmade, artisanal products can be challenging.


“When you make handmade products, you get boxed into being, like, your mum’s crafty friend. So it’s trying to navigate how you can take your unique perspective of someone who makes stuff, but not being tacky. But also not being elitist – as in ‘we make bespoke high-end handmade stuff’. Trying to be accessible, but also trying to educate the consumer about why it’s expensive.”

Our shoes carry us every day. For city rats, the thought of leaving the house without them is unthinkable. Not everyone can afford handmade shoes, but the craft can’t be forgotten. 

foot moulds on foot moulds on foot moulds at two five footwear's west coburg office. photo by arielle richards.

foot moulds on foot moulds on foot moulds at two five footwear's west coburg office. photo by arielle richards.

In the taxi on the way to the interview, I’d told the driver I was on the way to an interview with a shoemaker.

“My dad died a few weeks ago,” he said. “We were going through his stuff, and we found out he’d been getting his shoes custom-made for years. We had no idea, and opened his wardrobe, and just found pairs and pairs of beautiful hand-made shoes.” 

So incredibly chic. I told him his dad was a baller. When I relayed the conversation to Tim, he lit up. 

So chic. Having a bit of interest in those things in your life brings you a little bit of joy, like a little bit of a soul flex. Like - my shoes are handmade, custom – ooof!”

Arielle Richards is the multimedia reporter at VICE Australia, follow her on Instagram and Twitter.