Toronto’s coolest name in shoes, Lorena Agolli, doesn’t run a boutique. She runs Sole Survivor, a Kensington Market shoe repair shop that she bought more than a year ago after working there as a part-time cobbler for two years. A former retail manager with a pair of design degrees, Agolli got hooked on footwear after taking a moccasin-making class. In the year that she’s single-handedly run the shop, Agolli has revamped not only countless pairs of boots, brogues and loafers—she’s revitalized the company itself.
Now, she’ll fix or upgrade almost anything that involves leather: watchstraps, a pair of Muay Thai boxing gloves, even a custom-made chair. But it’s her creative projects that have elevated Sole Survivor from a small brick-and-mortar shop to a trendy lifestyle brand with a growing online presence that features her more ambitious creations including converting a customer’s ice skates into boots. To keep up with demand for her custom creations, Agolli opened a second location in Toronto’s West End, where she and her team plan to do most of their custom work.
“I like to say I have a sense of style and I’m bringing that into Sole Survivor, too,” Agolli says. “For example, we do the resoling of Red Wing work boots, and I’ll sometimes tell customers that they should change the color of the sole—it’ll look dope if the shoes are brown and the sole is black instead of cream—or if we add a spiked sole to a pair of vintage loafers.”
The 30-year-old has also begun creating footwear from scratch and plans to offer bespoke shoes on a made-to-order basis. She’s hired several female employees since taking over Sole Survivor, and they’re all learning the trade of cobbling just as Agolli did when she herself was apprenticing. “I want to give more girls the opportunity to be in this world, doing this type of craft and working with their hands,” she says.