Women at Work: Tess (Cobbler/Shoemaker)

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Editor’s Note: I’m excited to present our third interview in the series! (Check out 1 and 2 as well!) We talked to Tess, who works in a rather unusual industry—as a cobbler’s apprentice. As someone who knows basically nothing about the handcrafts industry, it was cool to talk to someone who is following such a unique path. Read on below:

What do you do for a living?

I’m a cobbler’s apprentice right now. Cobbling doesn’t have an educational requirement/school, so everyone tends to start as an apprentice.

What does a typical day on the job look like for you?

Tess GobeilI am admittedly still learning and there is an insane amount of little things to memorize. Typically, I come in and am shadowing someone for the day, whether that is on the glueing side of the shop, or the finishing side. I often am helping someone work through their rack of shoes, and in down time, I am doing a lot of varied shop prep work. This has included stuff like cutting and glueing new rands for rock climbing shoes, cutting down large leather pieces into small leather heel pads, taking the stock order weekly, preparing halfsoles to be used for those day’s shoes, etc.

Something that I really love about the work is the variety and that I have yet to have one day that was the same as the one prior.

How did you decide to become a cobbler’s apprentice? How much longer do you have as an apprentice, and then what is the process like after that? How much do you make?

Last year, I was working in a handmade papermaking mill, doing mostly bookbinding type work, across the country from where I live currently (which is also where I grew up). I had a partner back home, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled at work, and I was just ready to leave town. I knew I wanted to keep working a workshop environment but I was hoping to keep away from heavy trades (like carpentry, welding, etc) because those don’t interest me much. I ended up cold calling a bunch of cobblers in the city I wanted to live in, and it worked out for me!

As it is, somedays I am given a few pairs to do repairs on. Right now, it’s mostly simple stuff, basic hand-sewing and glueing, sanding things down, etc. When I am fully trained, it will look pretty similar to what I do now, except more work and more complicated work. In the morning, I’ll be assigned a much bigger pile of shoes to work through, aha.

Tess 2

Right now, I make 12$CAD an hour (9$USD) but I’m told that gets raised pretty regularly, after training and assuming I’m still doing solid work.

I’m definitely the baby of the shop still, so it’s hard to say how long I will be apprenticing for! Probably six months to a year, if I had to estimate.

Very cool! I feel like not many people our age are in touch with this kind of smaller-scale craft work. Are you worried about the growth of your industry, or are you not planning to stay in it definitely?

I’ve had a pretty niche set of jobs and I really strive to stay connected to smaller crafts, because I think they are really valuable as an industry (even if it’s a small one). I’m definitely intending to stick with cobbling. In school, I actually studied papermaking but when I went to do it as a “career”, it just wasn’t for me. So it’s been really encouraging to find something with some familiar hand-skills, that I really love.

In regards to growth, I am not so worried. There has been a big push on online fashion communities, that appears to be trickling into the mainstream culture, that we should be buying buy-it-for-life and better quality products in general. Ideas like this are imperative to cobbling continuing to strive, so I am very grateful for a shift.

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Was cobbling traditionally a male-dominated field, and how does it compare today? Do you see any gap in wages between men and women in your field, or any other areas where you think the conditions for women could improve? (I.e. Things like maternity leave?)

Cobblers themselves are mostly men, I’d say. It’s hard to say why exactly, other than it’s a blue collar industry. And realistically, it’s also one that isn’t very innovative or having changed much, so I sense it isn’t one that has really made a shift to encouraging women to get involved. As well, lots of people aren’t sure how to break into the industry. Our shop is about 20% women, which is pretty low compared to other industries.

Something that our shop does that I really appreciate is always having a cobbler on the front intake counter. This position rotates every shift and that person is also working on shoes in between customers. As a woman, this feels like it reinforces that we are not just cashiers or front-of-house people, but that we also are the ones doing the dirty work.

I would say that the majority of cobbling shops are one-man-stands, ran by slightly older gentlemen who have been doing it a really long time. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the industry evolves over the next 20 years.

I don’t see any wage gaps, but it may also be because the industry is so small and there are so few people really vying to get into it. Most people are hired as apprentices by a man in his one-man-stand, so there aren’t a lot of fellow female coworkers to compare wages with, unfortunately.

Tess is making a pair of shoes from scratch and documenting the process on tumblr. You can follow along here!


Women at Work: Amy (Nonprofits/LGBTQ Task Force)

Editor’s Note: Today we continue with the second interview in our Women At Work series, which is focused on a diverse range of working women and their experiences. Amy’s interview provides a companion piece to our first interview, with her mother Eileen. If you haven’t read that piece, I highly recommend it!

Women at Work logo.jpg Continue reading “Women at Work: Amy (Nonprofits/LGBTQ Task Force)”

Women at Work: Eileen (Writer/Editor)

Editor’s Note: I am very excited to introduce the inaugural interview of our new series, “Women at Work.” This series aims to open up conversations about what work women do, what aspects of work they find fulfilling, and what improvements can be made to their part of the American workplace. We’ll talk to women in a broad range of fields, in different stages of their careers.  Greater transparency benefits everyone! Our first interview is with 91-year-old Eileen Lavine, a retired editor who began her career several decades ago.

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1) What did you do for a living? What do you do now? 
I was a writer and editor for most of my career. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1945, and knew when I first entered college that I wanted to have a career in journalism. I had also been an editor of my high school newspaper (an enormous all-girls school in Manhattan), and as soon as I started college (at the age of 16 ½), I went to the office of The Daily Cardinal, the award-winning newspaper at Wisconsin, and started as a reporter.  That was September 1941 – and when we entered World War II in December, many of the male students went into service – so The Cardinal was run mostly by women, and I became the first woman to serve a full year’s term as executive editor.

2) When you were in school, what did you imagine you would do for a living? Did you have a strong sense of direction in terms of career, or a sense that there were many options open to you?

Yes, I had a strong sense of direction – I did not want to major in journalism, but rather in American Institutions, an inter-department major where I concentrated in political science, history, sociology and economics, all much more valuable for journalism.

When I graduated, I went to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and received my M.S. degree. Then I worked as a reporter and Assistant Sunday Editor on the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times for about 2 years.  I then came back home to New York and worked as an assistant to Dorothy Gordon, who had youth forums on radio for the New York Times – my job was doing forums at junior and senior high schools around the city on current events and cultural issues.  After 2 years, my job ended and with my generous severance pay I went on a six-week Grand Tour of Europe, ending up in Paris where I stayed for a year doing some free-lance writing for UNESCO and the Economic Cooperation Administration (US Marshall Plan). When I came back home, I became editor of a welfare and health newspaper published by the Community Council of New York.  I married and was doing free-lance writing when my first child was born, then we moved to Washington, DC (my husband was an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission) – and I started doing part-time work for a nonprofit association in the medical field, writing and editing newsletters and other materials.

Eileen LavineIn 1968, a group of us – all women whose husbands were employed – incorporated ourselves as Information Services, Inc., an editorial business that produced newsletters, brochures, conference proceedings,, public relations programs, etc. mostly for health and education organizations and government agencies.  I was President of the company for much of its existence and also was active in the formation of the National Association of Women Business Owners.  We were a low-key firm, mostly housewives working part time on a variety of assignments.  It was quite unique at the time, but we were fortunate in that the organization that had brought us together in the first place continued to pay for the rent and office supplies, and also most of us had husbands who were working and had health benefits.  Our company closed in 1998.  Since that time I have been a volunteer, first as a mentor for young Black and Latino students in reading and acculturation projects and a member of the Board of Directors of the organization sponsoring this program , and for the past eight years, I have been a senior editor at Moment Magazine, a bi-monthly publication founded 40 years ago by Elie Wiesel as an independent magazine on Jewish cultural, social and political issues. I have written articles for the magazine, and I do copy editing and proofreading for each issue.

3) Did your family, friends, and other people around you support your ambitions to be a writer and editor? Was there pressure to do something else with your career/life?

Yes, my family and friends strongly supported my ambitions to be a journalist.  From my high school days, I always went to the 070 section in the public library to read books about journalists. My father, who was a doctor, died when I was 10, and my mother was very supportive of me and my two sisters in everything we did, from going to college out of town, working on the high school newspaper, and going to graduate school (I lived at home that year). My friends also had career goals, and most of my close friends worked after college and after they were married (although most, I believe, stopped working when they first had children, returning to work in later years).  I don’t recall any friends of the family questioning my ambitions.  My older sister, who graduated from college in 1941, got a master’s in economics at Columbia, worked for several yeas after she married, then returned to work when her sons were older. Ditto for my younger sister.  There was never any pressure for any of us to do anything else.

4) Do you see major differences in the way that women are seen and treated in the workforce, from your early days as a writer and editor to your time now at Moment Magazine
Eileen Lavine 2
Eileen celebrates her 91st birthday at Moment Magazine.

Obviously, women in general have many more opportunities today – but remember, my college years were during World War II and women took over many jobs at that time. Some of my friends in college accelerated to get out of college in 3 years instead of 4 to take advantage of these jobs.
For a year in 1948 I worked on two trade magazines, before my job opened up at the NY Times, and the staffs were all women including the top editors. At Moment, the staff is almost all women, except for the design and production manager. We have had male fellows for one-year stints, but the latest fellows have been female.  I am continually impressed at the professionalism, capability and skill of all these women – and it has been a real pleasure for me to work with them.


5) Was the gendered wage gap and ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] a big topic of discussion during your time at Information Services, Inc.? What do you think can be done to further improve the working conditions of women today, if anything?

We didn’t discuss gendered wage gaps at Information Services because we were all part-time housewives whose husbands made most of the family income. So we really had no concern about the issue. However, we did march in support of the ERA and that was a big topic of discussion among us all.

As far as improving the working conditions of women today, I think professionally, women have made their marks already at the top levels of many fields, including journalism. The major issue today is how to improve working conditions for women at the lower end [of the job spectrum], to give them education and training so that they can move up and aspire to better jobs.

Our next interview is with Eileen’s daughter, Amy! What kinds of working women would you like to see us interview?


Know someone who wants to share their workplace experiences? Contact us :)


Things You’ll Encounter in a Midtown-Uptown-Downtown Coffee Shop on a Thursday [Atlanta Edition]

I’ve been spending too much time here.


  • A businessman in a navy blue suit who studies the menu for about ten minutes before announcing his coffee order like he’s closing The Most Important Business Deal of All Time.
  • Sharp-looking older woman in a Chanel suit, eating an organic steel-cut oatmeal and drinking black coffee. Earlier, you saw her go to the bathroom and not wash her hands, thus confirming something you always vaguely knew about women who wear full-on Chanel suits.
  • Start-up meeting! Suddenly you look up, and they’re all there. Just a group of puppies shouting about optimization and, occasionally, synergy.
  • Korean-American couple looking straight out of Ceci magazine, wearing slightly coordinated skinny-jean fits and drinking iced Americanos.
  • Old men reading the NYT and Wall Street Journal, grumbling softly to themselves and eating bagels.
  • Older woman wearing Naturalizer sandals and thoroughly enjoying a large-print Robert Galbraith novel. (As do I, Auntie. As do I.)
  • A curated collection of young men sporting carefully-groomed beards shining with expensive, artisanal beard oil.
  • Me.

Adventures in Mental Unwellness: Grad School Edition

When I applied for grad school, I thought I had things figured out – at least, as “figured out” as one’s future can be in advance. “Follow your passion,” “Do what makes you happy”…while my inner cynic scoffs at these platitudes, there was another, more hopeful part of me to which they rang true.

I didn’t expect grad school to make me happy, per se. Again and again, I had been told before going in that grad school is an emotionally draining and incredibly stressful environment. But when I accepted my offer to UVA’s English doctoral program, I hoped that my love of what I study, at least, would make the difficult experience worth it. After all, I had already been through a minor existential crisis about being an English major once in undergrad, and that had ultimately reaffirmed how much I cared about studying literature.

When I applied for grad school, I thought I had things figured out – at least, as “figured out” as one’s future can be in advance. “Follow your passion,” “Do what makes you happy”…while my inner cynic scoffs at these platitudes, there was another, more hopeful part of me to which they rang true.

I didn’t expect grad school to make me happy, per se. Again and again, I had been told before going in that grad school is an emotionally draining and incredibly stressful environment. But when I accepted my offer to UVA’s English doctoral program, I hoped that my love of what I study, at least, would make the difficult experience worth it. After all, I had already been through a minor existential crisis about being an English major once in undergrad, and that had ultimately reaffirmed how much I cared about studying literature.

Grad school, though, is a whole ‘nother ball game. Of course, I had been mentally preparing myself for this. But it is one thing to know something in the abstract, and quite another to face it head-on. Or, more precisely, to have your worst fears about academia hit you all at once with the speed of a bullet train.

Maybe I’m overstating things a little, but that’s probably as close as I can get to describing what grad school was like for me over the past year.

On my cohort’s first day of orientation, a wise upper year had told us, “Everyone in the program has imposter’s syndrome.” That had been very reassuring at the time, and I’d tried, at particularly difficult moments in my grad school life so far, to recall that statement and to internalize it. And yet my experience of imposter’s syndrome cut much deeper than I had anticipated.

There’s something peculiar about the English graduate program milieu that makes you overanalyze every little interaction you have with anyone else in the department. We are trained to overanalyze what we read, but when I entered the program, it became more and more difficult to disengage from this mode of thinking when I wasn’t studying. I found myself becoming increasingly performative, unconsciously basing my sense of self-worth on the judgment of other people – my professors, my peers, and so on. I think all English grad programs condition their students to think that way – to strive to present or perform better versions of themselves. This is especially true in particularly cutthroat programs that foster competition among their students, but even though there isn’t a toxic sense of competitiveness at UVA (quite the opposite, in fact), I still couldn’t help but measure my achievements and my work unfavorably against that of my colleagues, who, in my view, belonged here that much more than I did.

The more I interacted with fellow members of my first year cohort, the more I questioned my place in the program. They all seemed to be so eloquent and hardworking, but instead of being inspired by their example, I only grew more critical about my own competence. My peers were doing intellectually fulfilling work and networking with all the right people, while I only wanted to watch TV in my spare time. I became more introverted and socially awkward than I’ve ever been, because I was tired of trying to recalibrate my persona to better match up to that of my overachieving colleagues. I could barely make an effort to connect with professors outside of class (even though establishing good relationships with professors had been so emotionally and intellectually fulfilling in undergrad, and was part of what compelled me to apply to grad school in the first place), because I didn’t have a clue about what kind of research I wanted to pursue and didn’t want them to find out I was a hack. Because I was so concerned with struggling to perform a better version of myself, my self-perception became dangerously warped. When colleagues complimented me on a presentation I gave, for example, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were just being nice, because I’d become too unsure about my competence to know whether any of the work I was doing was valuable.

This was only the beginning of the program, and I knew that more challenging work would follow later on. So I expected coursework to be manageable – for my graduate seminars to just be more advanced versions of my undergraduate courses. And that is in fact what they are. But under these particular conditions, coursework became much more difficult than what I had prepared for – I seemed to have become a worse instead of a better reader. Whereas I’d tried my best to be a lively and interested participant in my undergraduate classes, in my new seminars I struggled to utter anything coherent – or anything at all – and wondered if I just couldn’t understand or interpret assigned readings as well as everyone else. Sometimes, in particularly dense texts, words on a page would become meaningless strings of letters to me.

I couldn’t write my essays with the same schematic efficiency with which I was used to tackling them. Essay writing had always stressed me out more than any other type of assessment, but I always tried to be strategic about it: I knew what I needed to do, and how much time I needed, and was able to follow a schedule for the most part, even if the end result wasn’t always satisfactory. Since coming here, however, the strategic game plan I became so accustomed to following had broken down almost completely. This past semester especially, I only found myself staring into the space between knowing what I needed to do for a particular writing assignment and actually doing it. I couldn’t get the words out.

I became terrifyingly ambivalent about departmental social events, because I knew that I would feel too self-conscious to socialize properly if I went, but isolated from potentially fun and generative interactions if I didn’t. I began to sleep too much, or too little. I would deliberately stay up very late, way beyond any legitimate point of wakefulness, because I didn’t really have anything look forward to the next day, other than the work I was avoiding. I’d made myself an emergency pick-me-up YouTube playlist in anticipation of particularly bad days, but on most days when I’ve really needed something to lift my mood, I couldn’t bring myself to even open any of the links. I would just stay in my room, and cry a lot, without being able to discern exactly why I was crying other than because “I was tired.” Sometimes I even struggled to leave my room to do the most basic things, like eating or taking a shower. In short, I became very depressed.

This is not my first encounter with depression. I was clinically diagnosed when I was nineteen. I have been to therapy, and taken antidepressants, though ultimately I’ve found that the most useful thing for me was to do little things on a day-to-day basis to keep my triggering emotions under control. It worked for me in undergrad – for a while, I was “better.” But the thing about depression is that even though it can be treated, there’s no complete cure. It’s like you’re sitting at the bottom of a well, trying to climb closer to the top, and sometimes succeeding. But sometimes you can slip and fall, and discover that what you’d previously assumed to be the bottom of the well is a false bottom, and that you can fall even lower. Grad school revealed a false bottom for me. I thought I’d gotten better, but after I came to grad school, the irreconcilable gap between my desire to be a good student and my inability to do so made my unhealthy thoughts that much more overwhelming and debilitating. I’d hit a new low, and am still trying to crawl my way up.

I haven’t told many people about being depressed, not because I’m ashamed, but because I’m afraid that people will treat me differently. This is a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. When I’m not in an especially bad funk, I can turn my self-deprecation into humor, and in making fun of it, make myself feel better about it. I can be fun and sociable. But I kept it mostly to myself, because I didn’t want to deal with the stigma, the damaging stereotypes that people still have of what depression means. I didn’t have the mental wherewithal to tell people that I couldn’t just change my mindset and get better. I was afraid of being handled like a delicate object, of people telling me I should seek help, drop out of school, and so on (especially because variations of all of these things have been said to me before, on occasions when I was feeling particularly vulnerable). Worse yet, I didn’t want to be dismissed as “crazy” – I didn’t want to be more socially isolated than I already felt. But finally, I had to confess – I had to get the words out, even if they end up doing me more harm than good. It isn’t my job to demystify depression to anybody, but I wanted to be honest. I wanted people to understand that, even if my depressive thoughts may overwhelm me without warning, I can make decisions for myself. Even if I may not always succeed at it, I am an adult.

I’m not confident that I’ll get better. But I’m not convinced that leaving grad school would be the right thing to do, either. I think it would be too simplistic to identify grad school as the “cause” of my depression, even if it exacerbated many of my worst symptoms. But what’s to say doing something else would make me “happy”? I’m not ready to give up on grad school just yet. I’m struggling to rekindle my former love of what I study, because there was a time when I was a curious and inquisitive burgeoning literary scholar, and I miss that.

I have new challenges to look forward to next year, and of course, more time to think about if this is what I really want to do. For now, though, I think I’ll stay where I am, because even if it’s not always fun and not always rewarding, coming to terms with my depression in grad school has nonetheless been a productive learning experience. And so, in spite of all the difficult things I’ve been grappling with over the past year, I’d like to keep pursuing this, as though it were an adventure.

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