30 Under 30: Tess Gobeil and Ariss Grutter run B.C.’s only female and queer-owned leatherwork shop

The cobbler duo point to gatekeeping as an industry trend that they're looking to challenge with Awl Together Leather.

Tess Gobeil & Ariss Grutter, 28

Co-founders, Awl Together Leather Inc.

Life Story: Ariss Grutter and Tess Gobeil knew they didn’t look like typical cobblers when they went into boot manufacturing. The co-founders of B.C.’s only female and queer-owned leatherwork and shoe repair shop connected on a very important note: they both felt underrepresented in the leather industry.

Funnily enough, Grutter and Gobeil were pursuing higher studies in Montreal at the same time but never crossed paths until they returned to Vancouver five years later. Grutter, who immigrated to Canada from Johannesburg as a child, was shining shoes to help pay for university. And Gobeil, who’s from the Fraser Valley, was mostly interested in bookbinding and letterpress printing. In 2015, Gobeil graduated from Concordia University with a degree in studio arts (although she transitioned into shoe repair shortly after), and Grutter, who studied international development and epidemiology, graduated from McGill in 2016.

The duo’s passion for leather had already crystallized by then. “I am a trans person and I also run in queer trans leather circles,” Grutter says of the inspiration behind their career. Prior to Awl Together Leather, they had sole proprietorship over an alteration service out of Eastside Re-Rides, a leather apparel consignment shop in Vancouver. The pandemic kept them busy enough to hire staff and start looking for a bigger space—Gobeil was one of the new hires.

“When I first met Tess, I was very impressed by her approach to being another young underrepresented person in the leather industry,” says Grutter. “And that’s sort of how our friendship started into business.”

Bottom Line: Both Grutter and Gobeil point to gatekeeping as an industry trend that they’re looking to challenge with their business, which they opened in 2021. With older white men dominating the cobbler profession, the pair noticed a serious lack of diversity and encouragement for young people. “We combat that by doing open studio time once a week where our staff come in to make their own projects and ask us questions, maybe things they don’t get to learn in regular shifts,” says Grutter. East Vancouver’s Awl Together Leather repairs everything from boots to jackets to upholstery goods. In their first year of business, they’ve served over 1,400 customers, expanded from three to six staff members and generated around $300,000 in revenue.