Suited & Booted with Steel City Shoe Shine
Situated on West Street, inside Cobblers and Keys, a small staircase on the left will lead you up to The Secret Shoe Box – home of Steel City Shoe Shine. It’s an intimate space, but one which oozes with character and vintage charm; 1920s jazz sets the scene nicely, beautifully furnished wooden cabinets display expensive Saphir waxes and a stunning selection of Loake shoes stand proudly on shelves at the back. On the right-hand side of the room Joe Dakin is busy at work. A client is seated in the wooden throne, a pair of leather brogues hoisted onto the iron clad rests, while Joe rubs an assortment of waxes into the shoes – sometimes pausing to melt the wax with a lighter before continuing to work the product in with strokes, light brushes and slaps. It’s impressive to watch this artisan, century-spanning trade brought to life with such obvious care and precision.
“I grew up as a bit of a subculture kid,” he explains when asked about his distinctive style and line of work. “It was almost like my lifestyle allowed me to fall into the trade. I was part of the punk scene for a while and then moved into the skinhead culture. It’s a very dressy scene: well looked-after Doc Martens, perfectly pressed clothing and suits for dancing at night. That’s where the OCD-like passion for smart-looking clothes and shoes probably started.”
After a stint as a chef, Joe was taken on by Wayne at Mooch Vintage where he eventually began restoring leather products by hand, posting before and after shots on social media. One slow day for business he sat outside the store with a rotary shiner, some creams and went to work. It did the job: people’s interests were piqued and Joe began to build a name for himself – “The Shoe Shine Guy”. “It wasn’t long after that I was introduced to Saphir products – that’s where things really started taking off for me. 90% of what I do is about the quality of the products; it’s just knowing how to use them correctly. I just carried on doing what I loved, carried on treating every shoe as though it was my own – and here I am.”
Following a period in London where he met and worked with Stephen D.R Skipper, one of the best shoeshiners on the planet, it was time to find a base to continue plying his trade from. He teamed up with Nick from Cobbler and Keys and the Secret Shoe Box was born. Some of the finest Loake shoes – brogues, boots and loafers – for both men and women can be browsed and purchased upstairs. In further exciting news, they will soon be official stockists of luxury Gibson menswear suits, adding the final touch to the full package on offer at the venue: shoe repair, authentic shoe shining and a bespoke suit service. Not to mention Joe’s personal touch of loyal customer service, especially when it comes to selling the shoes they’re so proud to stock.
“Every pair that come out of this shop, before being boxed they’ll be nourished by me personally – just so people won’t wear them dry and crack the leather before they’ve even started. It’s skin and you’ve got to look after it as such. On the other side of things, some people will bring in a pair of shoes that aren’t expensive but they mean something. They’ve got married or travelled the world in them and they want to keep them. Sometime they’ll come in and apologise for it, but I tell them it doesn’t make a difference for me. If you put me in front of a customer I’ll keep them entertained, talk to them and explain what I’m doing. I’m a Sheffield lad and I think Sheffield people appreciate that passion and honesty. It’s all part of the service.”