Evan’s Leather Repair was founded by Evan Skliros more than 60 years ago and has been operating in Melbourne’s Royal Arcade all that time. This is an edited interview with Evan, his daughter Jenny and grandson Damon.
I started when I was 12 years old.
I learned my trade from my cousin who taught me everything, and I was making shoes that nobody else could make.
And in Greece – for four and a half years – I worked for no money.
I made my first pair of shoes when my master was away.
“Who’s done this?” he said.
“I did,” I replied.
“Who designed them?”
“Who stitched them?”
He took off his apron and gave it to me.
Evan Skliros. Photo: Tatiana C C Scott
I hated the idea of civil war.
People wanted me to get away from my country and they were putting money aside so I could leave.
When I came to Australia I learned the language quickly but I couldn’t find a job.
I eventually found work as a shoe repair in Camberwell before I moved to the city to open up my own shop.
I used to be a free man, and I wanted to be a free man.
We repaired everything.
Shoes, bags, belts, briefcases and everything in leather.
I am technical, and I had the knowledge.
I built the shop up in the Royal Arcade and I’ve worked in the same spot for over 60 years. But things in the city have changed in every way. A shoe repair today, a frock shop tomorrow.
I also taught many people how to repair things, and some of these people have opened up their own business.
But that didn’t worry me, as I saw them all come and go.
Nobody could get my skills.
Other shoe repairs were trying to get the cheapest materials but I always wanted the dearest materials.
The expense didn’t worry me because they knew I was doing a good job. But I stopped repairing shoes about a year ago. Maybe I wouldn’t do a good job today as I can’t see properly.
My daughter is running the shop now. It’s beautiful. We have three floors and all the workrooms are upstairs. It wasn’t like that when I started. It was a small space, and I didn’t think it would last all the years.
It’s the oldest – and the youngest – shop in the Royal Arcade.
You’ve got to have the creation.
It might look the same but it’s a different job every day.
And I didn’t find it hard to adapt to changing technology. If you’re a tradesman, it doesn’t worry you. We used to make shoes and stitch them but, now, they make them with glue.
You needed a week to make a pair of shoes – designing them, making the patterns and stitching them – but not today.
They glue it, and it’s finished.
I grew up going into the shop
I remember – as a little kid – Evan showing me how to sharpen a knife. I didn’t want to do it, and I think that’s where my training ended.
But Evan left my mum quite a bit to do in terms of where the business was at. We were in a position where we had to decide whether to get rid of it or built it up again. So in the last year, I’ve helped out in digitising the business and improving the systems.
It’s crazy how much you have to put into the final product. It was a lot of work but it’s definitely paid off. One of the reasons we kept going is that Evan continued to reinvest in the business.
He is always ahead of what everyone else is doing.
I started working here when I was about 10.
I used to come and help out during the school holidays.
When all my friends were in holiday houses down in Portsea, I was here. I’d serve the customers and listen to what was happening.
And as I started doing interior design, I’d come on Friday nights to help mum and dad out. I’d stay until 9pm and be exposed to all sorts of things.
I was here part time but I learned all about the leather, what leather needed and what products go with what shoes.
But, over the past five years, I’ve taken on more of a full time role.
We’ve been here for 63 years.
Did dad tell you about the paper-bags full of paper?
He didn’t have many shoes when he started so he made a display to look like there was a big queue of people waiting to pick things up.
That’s how he started.
We have generations of customers coming in.
It wasn’t uncommon for a child from the country to work in the city, the parents would come – get their bags and shoes redressed at Evans – then go off to the theatre.
That was a time when fashion and footwear worked closely together.
Over the years, that industry has changed from independent and smaller shops to larger labels that make clothing overseas.
It’ll come back, but it’s not an easy thing.
We invest so much money in certain items and some things just work well for us.
Take this bag – you might love it because it’s the right size with the right compartments – but, if something breaks, you don’t want to throw it out. We can fix it, colour it with a little bit of dye and bring it back to you.
And with your shoes, I’d suggest we touch them up with a little bit of dye rather than polish which wears off. It will look like natural leather. And if you break a heel you can come in here and we’ll put a new one on for you, dye it to make it the same colour and it will look amazing.
These are the sorts of services we have.
It’s knowing what everything needs and what it should like.
A lot of young people keep buying new shoes when the older ones wear out.
They’re great shoes, but they deteriorate.
So a part of what we do is educate our customers. We’ll give them what they need to clean their shoes, and start off like that.
We also have very clever customers.
They can’t find navy blue boots anywhere, so they buy boots of a different colour and we dye them.
It opens up another world, where customers can add their own style to things.
Of course there’s a personal connection to the business.
I couldn’t let it go.
There’s the emotional side of things, and I think we’re doing beneficial work.
What would I do with my shoes if we weren’t around?
I’d start throwing them out like everyone else.
And we have customers who have been here for 50 years.
They will come in and say, “I was one of your first customers.”
I love this job.
You’re always nutting out some sort of problem.
It’s interesting, and you feel like you’re in a different space.
It’s also a niche market, so we always try our best to provide the best possible products. It’s in our DNA.
For the extra dollar you can find something that is good, strong and long-lasting.
Why would you go for anything cheaper?
Address: Shop 50, Royal Arcade,, 150 Elizabeth St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9650 2405
This article first appeared in Tales of Brick and Mortar.