I’ve always been a lover of shoes and taking care of them is one of my wardrobe priorities.
Being a fan of shiny shoes, I couldn’t get my shoes to be as glossy as I would like them to be. I’ve tried all sorts of shoe polishes and many other techniques but still couldn’t get the desired gloss finish.
I eventually came across a popular polish brand in Europe, called Saphir which when applied gave the results I desired. I, however knew that it took more than just a fancy polish to turn shoes into a flawless patent finish.
Some time ago, I had an opportunity to spend some time with a fine gentleman Sabelo Lehutso of JM Bespoke who was more than just a shoe shiner. I mean this gentle brother took shoe shining to the next level, he is what is dubbed a patina artist and I call him the reviver of soles. In fact, he made it clear that he is not a cobbler but more like Picasso.
Before some of you start thinking Sabelo is a shoe maker, let’s just get a few things out the way which I also got schooled about before he shared his story.
The word patina is of Italian origin, and in the context of (leather) shoes, it is a soft and shiny surface thus imparting character and personality on a shoe. On the other hand, a cobbler is someone who repairs shoes.
Now that we got those terminologies out the way, we can now continue with Sabelo’s craft of reviving old shoes. He started out as a colourist for Maison Corthay, that’s when he fell in love with his work and decided to take it up a notch to learn more about the craft. He was fortunate to meet a master shoemaker from the Netherlands, by the name of Jan Vlot to help him in his course.
After a conversation between the two in the store, Sabelo was fortunate to be offered a 3 months internship to learn more about shoe making. He learned so much from the process of making bespoke shoes. The process includes taking measurements of the client’s feet as well as the specifications of how they want the shoe to look. He further learnt how to make what is called a ‘last wood’, which is material used in constructing a bespoke shoe. Remember a shoe tree and its benefits, to leather shoes, a last is a wood that looks like a shoe tree. However, a last wood is made exclusively for a shoe with bespoke specs. Mr Lehutso also got an opportunity to learn how to make an orthopaedic shoe, a skill which will come in handy here in South Africa. Orthopaedic shoes are quite ideal for people with feet (musculoskeletal) problem. All of this and more for the love of quality shoes.
Upon his return to Mzansi, Sabelo went solo and established his own brand, JM Bespoke, to recreate and redesign leather goods using patina techniques. This does not only comprise of shoes but any leather product such as belts and bags. I mentioned character and personality earlier when defining the word patina, needless to say that this is what attracted me to JM Bespoke and the man himself. The uniqueness of his craft and how he established his very own signature look from applying patina on the shoes had me captured.
It’s no coincidence that I call him the reviver of shoes, it’s because of the transformation the man gives to shoes. It’s in how he manages to turn a rusty shoe into a glossy like patent leather, and to how he can completely change the colour of the shoe from its original one. He further takes it a notch up by changing a suede shoe to a smooth leather one, redesigning the original suede into any preferred colour.
While his dream of being a shoemaker is still a long-term goal, he continues to give shoes both new and old a unique finish. With every pair having its own unique design that looks like no other, without the JM bespoke unique touch going unnoticed.
Until next time