Bäckmans Skoservice is a well-renowned shoe repair shop located in the central borough of Östermalm in Stockholm, Sweden. But it is not just any old cobbler shop: classic shoe enthusiasts worldwide trust them with the most advanced repair work, and their staff is one of the world's most competent. This has been proven time and again by them taking home several prestigious prizes at big international shoe repair competitions, including a recent world title. We met Peter Aglo, co-owner and master cobbler.
Store front of Bäckmans Skoservice at Nybrogatan 23 in central Stockholm - Bäckmans being the family name of the founder and skoservice meaning shoe service
Nybrogatan, a mostly residential street but also home to stores, cafés, restaurants and offices, as seen from the shop
What can you tell us about Bäckmans and yourself?
Bäckmans was founded in 1922 by Josef Bäckman. In 1952 my grandparents acquired the business, and the store was located at Mäster Samuelsgatan, just off Drottninggatan in central Stockholm. It was a big store. You could enter on one side of the block and exit from the other. Business was good at that time and at one point we had five locations around Stockholm.
PETER AGLO, MASTER COBBLER AND CO-OWNER OF BÄCKMANS SKOSERVICE - HIS GRANDPARENTS ACQUIRED THE BUSINESS FROM THE ORIGINAL FOUNDER IN 1952
Co-owner Peter Holmér to the left, and one of their younger cobblers handling a pair of finished shoes
My father took over the business in the 1960s when my grandfather became ill with MS. He worked through the 70s and then I started working there in 1985. I worked for a few years with my dad before he eventually passed away. Then my mother came into the company, and I worked with her for ten years before she retired. That’s when my current partner Peter Holmér and I started working together. It was just the two of us working at the store, and we had a little shop further down this street, maybe a hundred meters from our current location.
From then on we have grown constantly. We have ten employees working for us today, and my son also having joined the team recently. There is also a workshop without customer reception, since we cannot fit more machines here in the main store. We started selling a few classic quality shoe brands in the 90s, which has been a great success, and recently opened up our own webshop. We also accept repair jobs from customers all over the world who send us their shoes by mail.
Goodyear welted shoe in for a complete re-sole - sole stitching just finished
Finished re-soled shoes with open channel stiching hanging at the workshop
How have you noticed the recent upsurge in interest for classic men’s shoes?
It’s a big difference compared to when I started working with shoes. You did see a few pairs of Church’s, Allen Edmonds and Johnston & Murphy every now and then. But now there is a plethora of different brands and you notice that the interest is increasing tremendously. People are getting very interested in shoes, both ladies and gentlemen.
Allen Edmonds shoe cut in half to display the Goodyear welt construction
RM Williams boot with innards on display
People are more interested in how the shoes look and how they’re made, in a completely different way. When I started repairing shoes, people wanted them to be practical, sustainable and long-lasting. Nowadays it is more about the looks. Different colours of soles and all kinds of stuff. There is a big difference. It’s hard to say exactly why. Maybe people are earning more money, but above all I think that the supply is much greater now. There is much more being written about it, on blogs and everywhere. It’s great fun.
You participate in big shoe repair competitions.
Yes. In Sweden there is only one: the Swedish Masters. We are there every year, and tend to be five, six competitors from Bäckmans. We have also competed in Germany, Holland and the USA. So we’re participating in more and more of the competitions. My partner Peter won the whole competition in the United States, which is huge. The Yanks were not that happy when he came over and won the big prize. But it was fun.
2008 Grand Silver Cup prize awarded to Peter Holmér
2015 World Cup Gold Award taken home by Peter Holmér
We recently won a gold medal, or actually a couple of gold medals at the World Cup in Germany. It’s, like, if you’re good enough, you get a gold medal. There is not only one competitor that wins a gold medal. So we had two participants from Bäckmans who won gold medals, which wasn’t easy because competition was tough – the Germans are really good at what they do.
The rules vary a lot. In the US Silver Cup you can win prizes in multiple categories, but then it is the best participant overall that wins the whole competition. That’s what Peter did. But the rules vary depending on where and which competition you participate in. They all have slightly different rules.
Sharpening of tools at the workshop
RM Williams boots getting serviced with new elastic side gussets
Here in Sweden it has been all about getting as close to the original as possible. If you’re going to repair a Crockett & Jones shoe, it should look like it came from Crockett & Jones, coloured the same way and so on. But not all competitions are like that. There is usually a bit more freedom, you can experiment more. Then judges assess every part of the job: milling, polish, seams, everything basically. The competitor with the highest points in total wins.
Swedish Masters challenge prize won several times by both Peter Aglo and Peter Holmér
It takes a long time to make a competition shoe. It’s definitely nothing you can do super quick. You can work on the same pair for many days, and you need to have a good sense of aesthetics. It’s great fun to participate and compete, and of course it’s good advertising for the business.
Sanding of newly stitched on leather soles
2016 Germany World Cup entry shoes: a pair of completely worn through penny loafers from classic English maker Church's, before and after repair
Any advice for our readers?
The most important thing is to take care of your shoes, to condition and polish them and to use shoe trees. Also, do not wear the same pair day in and day out, have at least two or maybe three pairs in rotation. If you have two pairs they will last approximately three times longer than if you only have a single pair.
Bäckmans carries shoes from Allen Edmonds, Italigente, Johnston & Murphy, Loake and RM Williams, and are officially authorised to repair all of the mentioned brands
Before and after repair