When her boss retired in 2013, Lorena Agolli was faced with the decision of whether to take over Sole Survivor or leave things to chance under new ownership. She decided to go all-in and take the reigns of the Toronto cobbling operation.
When her boss retired in 2013, Lorena Agolli was faced with the decision of whether to take over Sole Survivor or leave things to chance under new ownership. She decided to go all-in and take the reigns of the Toronto cobbling operation. The first winter in the basement shop was a long one. Lorena recalls working 14-hour days alone to keep up with growing demand. Since then, Sole Survivor has emerged as a sought after repair and customization destination in the bustling Canadian city. The shop’s foundations are built on rock-solid repairs, and it distinguishes itself with one-of-a-kind custom jobs that turn heads with creativity and precise execution. Lorena and her employees treat each pair of shoes and boots that come in with a reverence that reflects their unwavering respect for well-made footwear. We met up with Lorena in her shop to learn more about her trade and explore her passion for wasting less and living more.
When you took over the business in 2013, it was sink or swim. How did you pull it off?
I had the feeling of sink or swim on my mind only because I had never run a business, let alone tried to make a living out of repairing shoes and leather goods. I still don’t know how I pulled it off, all I can say is that I was motivated by needing and wanting to work in this capacity. I didn’t have any expectation of how it should be or look, I just wanted to follow my passion, and that was working with my hands and doing a good job. And the rest, as they say, is history.
How do you view your work within the context of made-to-throw-away, fast consumption culture?
I value the idea of what we will leave behind when we no longer exist in this physical body and life. I am trying to "heel" what exists and not add more waste to this planet. Knowing that my bare hands have extended the life of a pair of boots or leather goods allows me to feel more connected to this earth, and that’s something that I’m trying to instill in my customers... Invest in quality over quantity.
If a pair of boots is worn daily for a decade, it’s going to show some serious signs of wear. In your mind, what’s the difference between good wear and bad wear?
People forget that leather is like our skin. It needs to be regularly washed and conditioned. Just because you buy a quality pair of boots does not mean that you can just wear them for a decade without ever taking care of the leather uppers. It's all about pride, and caring for the items you own and wear is the difference between good and bad wear. You can tell how much someone cares by looking at their footwear.
How does your passion for restoration with your work lend itself to the sorts of clothes and footwear that you invest in for yourself?
Having my shop in Kensington Market, where many of the vintage stores in Toronto are, has allowed me to trade my skills for free clothing. I only wear vintage clothing, which in my opinion are made to last and always on trend. Besides owning a couple of pairs of Red Wing boots like the Clara and Classic Moc, I try to make my own footwear or only wear vintage.
What’s a custom job that you’re particularly fond of?
I take pride and enjoyment in all the jobs that I do because I know that I’ve extended the life on that pair of shoes. However, customized jobs take on a different kind of love because they challenge me to think out of the box. One of my favorites was a pair of Red Wing Claras that we dyed cherry red.
Where do you hope to take things with Sole Survivor in the next two years?
Over the past year, I’ve been making more time to create and focus on always improving on my trade. Moving forward, I’m hoping that I can create more quality leather goods and footwear and collaborate with other creatives and makers from around the world.