We spent a brisk morning with Yina and Soojin, husband-wife owners of ODSY Workshop in the Sunset neighborhood — San Francisco’s one-stop shop for shoe repair and leather goods.
These two weren’t always shoe repair experts though; Yina and Soojin acquired the business and turn-of-the-century tools from a well-seasoned cobbler, named Paul, who happened to be selling his storefront (and everything in it!) on SFkorea (think: a Korean Craigslist). The requirements? He wouldn’t sell his business to anyone - Paul wanted his store to be passed down to someone whom he could teach his shoe-specific skills and appreciation for old machinery. A year later, ODSY Workshop was forged.
Read more about Yina and Soojin’s shop, the leather conditioner they use on their Mohinders, and some of the brands that make up their 200+ shoe collection.
How did you come up with the name ODSY?
ODSY comes from the word odyssey, which means a long wandering and eventful journey, and it is an epic poem by Homer. We thought it was a great name to borrow from because they want our products to last long and stay with people throughout their life journey.
Tell us about ODSY. What are your separate roles at the shop?
ODSY Workshop is a shoe repair and leather goods shop. We fix shoes, bags, and other leather products, and we also make our products in-house. But we do many different things, such as making aprons for restaurants and creating custom products for companies.
Soojin is the first person you will meet when you visit the shop. He is the shopkeeper and the main person who does all the shoe and leather repairing. Yina takes care of the business side of ODSY, lots of emailing, calling, meetings, researching, and takes care of the visual part of the store. We work together to make leather and soft goods we carry at the shop.
What do you carry at ODSY and why? How do you source the items for your shop?
Besides our handmade goods and general shoe care products, we have unique tools and ceramics.
We carry high-quality tools that we love using every day. We source them from all over the country, but mainly from Europe. We have these handmade screwdrivers that a cabinet maker makes from London. We bought one of his screwdrivers when we visited London and loved using it; we emailed him and asked if we can sell them at our shop. We have these thread nippers from Korea that we love using and trying to carry. Yina went deep into the research and had a phone call with the owner in Korea who makes the nippers. When we find something we love using, we search for the makers and try to have them at our shop.
The ceramic pieces that we have at the shop are all made by women and mainly POC artists. We wanted to open up an outlet for women artists to show and sell their work to different audiences, and we wanted to find a way to support their work. Selecting ceramics is similar to how we choose our tools. Often found while we travel, or artists we appreciate.
We love learning about this! Thank you for sharing how much thought goes into what you decide to carry. What is your favorite repair product? What is the best product you carry that you recommend using on Mohinders?
Vibram is our favorite brand that carries its shoe products as well as repair products. The company understands shoes and feet. They are innovative and always trying something new with their products. Their Sole Factor brand has funky colored soles and unique designs that speak to shoe lovers like us. We love using Vibram creme-colored soles to change Mohinders' worn-out crepe soles. They last longer, have a better grip and look great on them too. Oh, and we love using Saphir shoe cream to condition Mohinders once in a while.
Good to know about Saphir! What is your favorite piece of machinery in your shop?
Yina: I love shoe stretchers! I have wide feet and a bunion on my left foot, so there is never a right shoe size for me. I never knew about shoe stretchers until we took over the shoe repairing business. They are so simple but do a great job.
Soojin: One of the machines that I use daily is a Singer 29-4 sewing machine from 1905. I'm always mesmerized by how steady it is and how well it works after over a hundred years.
Tell us more behind the space and how ODSY came to be. How did you come across all of your turn-of-the-century tools?
When we only did leather goods, we had a studio in the Mission. But we wanted to have a small shop/workshop space in the city, so we were looking around. Yina's mom found an ad on SFkorean, perhaps a Korean version of Craigslist, that a shoe repairman is trying to retire and looking for someone to take over the business. We were a bit hesitant because we were only trying to find a workspace, but Yina's mom said we should at least check out the shop. When we went to Paul's Shoe Repair, it was a chaos of tools, old machines, a mixture of chemical smells, and old things accumulated in the shop. But for some reason, Soojin fell in love with all the old machines, tools, and the possibility of learning a new trade. Yina saw his eyes sparkle, and since she was always down to work on a new project, it was natural to take over the business. We had a competitor, a sushi chef who also wanted to take over, but Paul chose us because he believed that we would carry on the business he worked hard on building.
We learned that Paul had the shop for 27 years, and before Paul, it was always a shoe repair store, probably for more than 50 years. Total of 80+ years! Soojin apprenticed under Paul for three months, but since we were already knowledgeable with leather, it was reasonably easy to learn the basics. Soojin did lots of research, used different tools and materials to test out. It was a lot of trial and error.
After five years of operating on Taraval Street, we ran out of space, so we moved to Irving Street in 2020.
Paul is happily retired, traveling, and taking care of his grandchildren. He comes over to our shop to say hello and sometimes repairs his daughters' shoes. He is the only person who is allowed to use our machines!
What a wonderful story! You boast a collection of 200+ pairs of shoes - what are some of your favorite shoe brands, styles, etc.?
Conveniently, we love shoes, and we also work with shoes! We tried most of the brands that come into our shop regularly. People often ask for shoe recommendations, and knowing and trying out the brands helps us give our customers the best advice.
Yina: For everyday wear, I love my Blundstones. Repairing them is a little tricky, but I love the simple design and durability. My other favorite is an Italian brand, Marsèll. Their quality (leather and how they are built) and the wabi-sabi design is everything I would die for, and they are the most comfortable shoes. Lastly, Reebok Club C 85 are my all-time comfy shoes.
Soojin: Since I work with shoes every day, I look for well-structured and quality materials when I choose shoes. My favorite brands are Feit, Marsèll, Red Wing, Alden, and Paraboot. Feit and Marsèll are all leather shoes using the traditional method. Red Wing is the most trusted work boots made in the U.S.; Alden uses durable, goodyear welt, casual shoes with fine details; and Paraboot is another high-quality shoe that I can wear every day, all-year round.
We love taking good care of our belongings, so it's natural to repair and take care of other people's leather products.
Yina, what are you working on right now personally as an artist?
I work on lots of different things, but currently, I'm working on a comic about the daily life of a person who lives in a small industrial city. And on the side I'm doing kintsugi, repairing all my friends' broken ceramics. I'm often uploading my artistic endeavor on my Instagram account, @y.i.n.a.k.i.m!
So interesting! We love to keep up on what you're working on. What's the most outlandish repair you have ever had? And the most challenging and/or rewarding repair you've ever worked on?
Soojin: The most rewarding and challenging repair that I do regularly is to modify shoes for people with disabilities. One time I modified shoes for a young man who had a paralyzed right leg. He was dragging his right foot, and his right shoe only lasted for a couple of months. I added a shield layer to the upper and bottom part of the shoes, so it lasts longer. His father thanked me for my work, and it was one of the most memorable moments.
That's so touching – thank you for sharing that memory. What's your favorite restaurant in San Francisco!?
Chicken sandwich: Mamahuhu
Korean soups: Daeho
Dumplings: Yuanbao Jiaozi
Pizza: Gioia Pizzeria
Where have you been wearing your Mohinders? Do you see yourself taking them on future travels? Where will you go when you can travel again?
Yina: Woven Flats are my all-time vacation sandals. I took them to Paris and Warsaw a few years ago, and I walked over 20,000 steps in them every day. I wore down the soles from that trip, so I have to re-sole them soon.
Soojin: I bring my Solid City Slippers whenever I travel. I took them to Paris, London, and Seoul. They go well with many of my outfits, and also, they are easy to wear.
ODSY Workshop is open Monday through Friday from 10AM - 6PM and Saturday from 10AM - 5PM. Swing on by and say hello to Yina and Soojin!
2039 Irving St.
San Francisco, CA 94122