Ask The Expert: The Shoe Technician

He is a saviour of stylish soles and so much more.

Some of Toronto’s high profile fashionistas beat a path to Robertson Perry, with broken stilettos in hand and tears in their eyes, pleading for him to fix their favourite Manolo Blahnik’s or Jimmy Choo’s. The workmanship and service he and his team provide is legendary.

So impressed with his ability to breathe new life into their battered boots, bags, belts and yes, a variety of footwear, customers would often resort to bringing non-fashion items to repair. A leather car seat and even a torn stuffed plush pig are some of the more unorthodox items brought forward to test their mending skills.

Now after more than 30 years learning every aspect of his craft at Novelty Shoe Rebuilders (which is now under new ownership) Perry, 57, has struck out on his own, opening Rob’s Best Foot Forward Shoe Rebuilders. Loyal customers – which includes arts and theatre companies, such as the National Ballet of Canada, Opera Atelier and Soul Pepper Theatre – have followed the shoe repair expert to his new digs; a sunshine flooded store on the ground floor of a downtown Toronto office tower.

And already, there are more than worn-out soles making their way into the shop. Like a small suitcase with a broken retractable handle and a weathered old leather satchel briefcase, begging to be spruced up to be handed down to the next generation in a family of lawyers. As Perry likes to say of these challenges, “If it’s made by man, it can be fixed by man.”

As he welcomes new and old customers and their weathered leather goods, we ask the guru for some tips for taking care of our favourite footwear.


“Leather is skin. Just as you moisturize your face with creams, you should do the same to your leather products,” says Perry. To help keep your leathers supple and to help rejuvenate to the original colour, he recommends, Saphir Renovating Cream. The made-in-France cream comes in a variety of colours and does not rub off on your clothing, he assures.


Chalky white salt stains on your boots is the winter plague that befalls the urban dweller. You might think you got rid of it by wiping it with a damp cloth but within minutes, the tell-tale white stains reappears once your boots are dry. This happens because the salt seeps deeply into your leather.

For a quick and light fix at home, Saphir Stain Remover, will do the trick, says Perry.

But at the end of the season, you really should take your salt stained footwear to a shoe repair shop for a deep cleaning to get all the salt out before putting your winter shoes away. Removing salt stains is not an over-night job, as Perry says he needs at least a week to work on a pair boots. The lengthy process involves a soak in a special solution that draws the salt out, then drying before  ‘putting some juice back to nourishing the leather.’

It’s important not to leave salt stains unchecked because it will start to crack the leather, he advises.

Since salt stains will be inevitable, one product Perry recommends to give you a fighting chance at protection would be, Collonil Waterstop Spray.

Since footwear comes in a variety of materials, including non-animal products, you might need different sprays and solutions for cleaning. But one cleaner that seemingly covers a wide range of fabrics, including canvas and suede, Perry recommends, Lincoln E-Z Cleaner.

For water proofing of leather, Perry resorts to the grand daddy of protection products;  Sno-Seal Original Beeswax. “This is an old-school item,” he says and helps to protect from snow, salt, rain and sun and can be used on a variety of leather goods from golf shoes to baseball gloves and of course, boots. He highly recommends it for the  beeswax component – which is better for protecting any stitching on the leather from breaking down.


For men, the best shoe trees are the ones made of cedar wood, The wooden blocks inserted in men’s shoes not only helps to keep the shape but the cedar wood absorbs perspiration and odour. But Perry advises that one should occasionally give your cedar shoe trees a refresher by giving them a light brushing with sandpaper. This helps to release the aroma of the wood and also helps the wood to draw out moisture from your shoes.


Before wearing your new shoes, the leather soles can be slippery and dangerous. Perry recommends protecting your investment by getting a shoe repair shop to adhere a rubber anti-scuff sole. “It’s an old English trick,” he says, which helps make the sole last longer.  Modern technology allows these rubber pads to be sliver-thin and they come in a wide variety of colours, including that famous cherry hue found on the bottom of Louboutin’s.


When shopping for footwear, some people adhere to various notions that the time of day matters for trying on shoes. Mornings are best when your feet is well rested while others suggest afternoons are best when your feet might be swollen. For Perry, his advice for trying on shoes, “If it doesn’t feel right when you try it on, don’t buy it. I don’t believe in growing into comfort.”

But on that note, if you already have a pair of new shoes in your closet you don’t wear because it’s uncomfortable for one reason or another – such as giving you a blister above your heel – he recommends taking it to a good shoe repair shop. A shoe technician have a few tricks up his sleeves to help make adjustments to a pair of shoes for a bit more comfort or ease. They can also adjust your shoes to accommodate bunions and other orthopedic modifications.

All products mentioned available at various online retailers or at Rob’s Best Foot Forward Shoe Rebuilders, 20 Toronto Street, Suite 100, Toronto, Ontario.