Although fast fashion remains popular, a growing number of people are choosing to live and dress more sustainably. Jim McFarland, known professionally as “America’s Cobbler,” is here to help.

“When you think about it, we’re the oldest recycling industry probably in the world,” McFarland, of Lakeland, Florida, told Fox 13 Tampa Bay. “They’ve probably been mending shoes since they made them.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, McFarland, with the help of his daughter Tori, began posting videos on social media of his craftsmanship, offering viewers a behind-the-scenes peek into his workshop. The posts document McFarland meticulously repairing and reviving old, worn, and damaged shoes and leather goods to make them look and feel like new. He and his team also offer waterproofing, customizations, and orthopedic modifications.


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“Our first video that we posted got over 2 million views over the course of a week, but I think we were like, ‘That was just a stroke of luck,’” Tori, who films and posts the videos, told NBC News

When successive posts also garnered millions of views, they realized it wasn’t a one-off. Within 90 days, the shop’s YouTube channel had over 100,000 subscribers, McFarland told FOX 13. The shop now has 1.3 million followers on TikTok and 666,000 on Instagram


“I laugh at it sometimes because I just would have never imagined that if you told me that you were going to put out videos and millions of people would be watching, I would have been laughing,” Mcfarland said. “[They] check out the shop because they have been following us and it’s very humbling! I mean for me to think that someone would come in and want to meet a shoe cobbler. It baffles me. I soak it all in because I’m like, wow, I’m a shoe cobbler! This person cares this much about a shoe cobbler, I’m going to give them all the time they want.”

McFarland’s artistry is undoubtedly tantalizing, and his fans on social media aren’t the first to recognize his talent. The fourth-generation cobbler has received more than 20 accolades from around the world, according to the business’ website. That includes the Shoe Service Institute of America’s Grand Silver Cup — the nation’s top industry award for the crafts. His business has also won international acclaim in Germany and The Netherlands, according to The Lakelander, and helped produce The Cobbler, a 2014 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Adam Sandler.

The videos also portray McFarland’s passion for the people he serves. For many of them, shoes are much more than footwear. 


“You’re not just rebuilding a shoe, you’re rebuilding a lot of memories. You should see all the letters I get. I save them all. I have them all over there on my desk. They’re touching. You can feel the hurt when you’re reading them, you can feel how hurt they are. How damaged the heart is,” McFarland told Fox 13. “So many of these people will send me shoes of a lost loved one. So, when you get something like that in your hands, you can’t put a price on that, and it means so much to that person. I think the pay for me is to clean those things up, make them special again and hopefully put a Band-Aid on that guy’s heart.”

McFarland learned cobbling from his father and took over the business in 1986 when his dad became ill, but it didn’t start with them. Jacob High, McFarland’s great uncle, opened Jacob High Shoe Shop in Anderson, Indiana, in the early 1900s. He passed the craft on to his nephew, Lewis McFarland, who passed it along to his son, James R. McFarland I, who took the business to Florida in 1963. Before setting up shop in the U.S., past generations of the family had been cobblers in Scotland, McFarland told The Lakelander.

“My family is originally from Scotland, where our clan house was turned into a bed and breakfast and is now called the Cobbler House with a cobbler on the front sign,” he told the publication. “So it’s definitely a very old family business. Unfortunately, I heard somebody just purchased [the house], but I do have pictures that my sister took when she went, and they’re really nice to look at.”


The shoe repair industry has shrunk dramatically over the past century. Per McFarland, there were more than 120,000 shoe repair shops in the country in the 1920s; now there are about 6,000. Still, he’s confident his family business will continue going strong. Well-made shoes can last for years with proper care, and research points to an increasing interest in eco-friendly shopping. 

“People still buy high-quality shoes, and there are many more people in this country than 80 years ago, so there’s still plenty of work to do, that’s for sure,” he said. 

McFarland is also inspiring the next generation of cobblers — including his nephew, Kyle Crouse. At least a third of the comments on his social media are from people interested in taking up the craft, he told Fox 13 News, noting that there’s real opportunity. For those who are interested, McFarland advises befriending a cobbler and asking about apprenticeship. 

“You don’t have to be great at something or everything but be … great at customer service,” he said. “If you can put out a good product with great customer service, you’re going to do phenomenal. I don’t care what you’re doing.”