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Feature 14 Dec 16

Belgrade Master Shoemaker Reboots the Family Business

Fed up with just fixing shoes, veteran cobbler Branislav Stajic decided to resurrect classic shoemaking techniques and teach the traditional methods to others – an idea that’s proved surprisingly popular.

Ivana Nikolic
BIRN
Belgrade
 Bane started his own shoe repair shop in 1985. Photo: BIRN/Ivana Nikolic.

Located near the Sindjelic Football Club at Vojislava Ilica 82 Street, “Obucar Bane,“ or Shoemaker Bane, is easy to find. A sign reading “OBUCAR” sights on the huge fence separating a private yard from the noisy intersection. Upon entering, I easily spot Branislav Bane Stajic, a man in his fifties, approaching me with a huge smile.

His workshop shares the yard with his family home and has been here since 1985. Before that, the Stajic family moved frequently, mostly around the Belgrade neighbourhood of Karaburma.

The snug workshop is separated into two parts: a room where Bane makes shoes in the traditional way, and a room where his son and heir to the Bane shoe empire, learns the craft.

“My son is taking over the shoe repair shop. He was unemployed like many young people here, and this job guarantees him existence and independence,“ Bane says as we enter his part of the workshop, proud of the fact that his son, now in his twenties, is the fourth generation of the shoe-loving family.

The tiny room is cluttered with shoes: old, new and unfinished ones, templates for shoemaking, machines, various working equipment and black and white photos of his family members. It is nice and cosy, and smells like leather and glue.

“My grandfather got his shoe repair education even before World War II, and he started working after the war ended,” Bane explains, adding that his father also followed in his father’s steps.

“So, I grew up in a workshop and I learned how to do it [repair shoes]. But, I was not really into the craft,” the master says, arguing he had no plans of pursuing the family business as a young man.

But he had no other option but to become a shoe repair master due to his poor performance at school, he admits.

However, right after he finished schooling and got his shoe repair degree, Bane got his very first job.

“Back then, a job was waiting for you when you finish education. I spent 12 years working for Belgrade Shoes Industry,” he recalls.

When the company started collapsing, Bane decided to start his own shoe repair shop, a business that is still alive.

Getting back to basics

 Located near the Sindjelic Football Club at Vojislava Ilica 82 Street, “Obucar Bane,“ or Shoemaker Bane, is easy to find. Photo: BIRN/Ivana Nikolic.

After years of only doing repairs, Bane admits that he got sick and tired of fixing other people’s shoes. He needed something else, a pursuit that would make him feel happy and alive. So, three or four years ago he decided to start making shoes on his own.

“I saw all over the Internet that shoemaking is popular and well-paid worldwide. And I neglected that [custom shoe making] because I thought no one is interested in it anymore,” Bane says.

Even though his new vocation is only getting started- clients for customized shoes are still hard to come by- he says he is enthusiastic and plans on tirelessly pursuing his dream. It takes about four or five days to finish a single pair of tailor-made shoes, the master explains, and the average price is around €140.

But apart from making shoes on his own, Bane also decided to offer public shoemaking lessons and the turnout was a bit unexpected. A lot of elderly, well-educated and financially well-situated people answered his call and took up the shoemaking lessons. Every student has a specific reason for taking classes, the master adds.

“My last student was a mechanical engineer working for a foreign company, who has a very good salary and who simply came here to learn how to make shoes. He is interested in everything – shoes design, template production, sewing and putting it all together in the end,” Bane says.

“His motive is his love for shoes and the fact that he wants to be able to make a pair for himself,” Bane adds.

There is also one younger man who is a bookkeeping boss at a Belgrade-based company who loved the course.

“For them, making a shoe is like a dream come true. They are truly happy and amazed with what they’ve done,” Bane claims.

“I feel fulfilled when they [his students] are happy.”

Good and bad times

Three or four years ago he decided to start making shoes on his own. Photo: BIRN/Ivana Nikolic.

During all these years, Bane admits he has seen it all – both nice and not-so-nice things. It all depends on the overall political and economic situation in the country, he claims.

“For me it is the best when the living standard is high.”

While the end of 1980s – when he opened up his business – was the best of times, he recalls that 1993 with its hyperinflation was by far the worst year for him and his business.

“The prices changed constantly and people could barely make ends meet. Some of my clients would bring me sacks of potatoes, pens and planners as they had no money to pay me,” he recalls.

Back in 1993, Bane admits he had to buy materials at junk yards as there were no other places apart from those. “I would buy soles from military boots and tracks’ tires and use them,” Bane claims.

While it did get better sometimes in the mid-1990s, the master says the tough times are back again.

“It indeed is bad now. Now people have to choose whether to buy bread or fix shoes. Of course they will go for bread; there is not much to think about,” the master concludes.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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