I was lucky to find these unfinished Huaraches from Huarachero Juan Saucedo at the Mercado Dan Juan de Dios in Guadalajara.
Working out of his Huaracheria in spaces 452-1048 since 1965, the protagonist of many Mexican press articles on the craft of Huaraches and with multiple academic degrees, Senor Saucedo is a remarkable Huaracehero.
Known as the ‘Tamazula’, or the ‘Pihuamo’ from the towns where they are traditionally made, I noticed this pair of Huaraches hanging at the back of his Huaracheria wall and realized how the artistic expression of the Huarache comes alive in it’s abstract form without sole.
Like neighboring Amacueca and Concepción de Buenos Aires, Teocuitatlán de Corona is also well known for its Huarache traditions. Also a few hours south from Guadalajara, Teocuitatlán is a well preserved, small and quiet country town.
There are only 2 remaining Huaracheros in Teocuitatlán and one Huaracheria, this isn’t so bad if you consider that only one barber remains.
One Huarachero has his ‘taller’ workshop just off the central plaza, opposite the church.
The Huarache style in Teocuitatlán de Corona is consistent with the Southern Jalisco natural leather and white ‘Oscaria’ blocking. The pair below also has a ‘Pico’ style sole shape as found in nearby Atoyac.
A recent article titled “¿Agoniza el huarache tapatío?” (click on title to link to the original article in Spanish – clic el titulo para el link al artículo original en español), dated November 6th 2011 by Isaura López Villalobos in the Mexican newspaper EL OCCIDENTAL, talks about the struggling sales of Huaraches in the Mercado San Juan De Dios in Guadalajara.
Guadalajara, Jalisco – The typical Mexican huarache resists in the market halls of San Juan De Dios, yet the craftspeople there view their economic losses with sadness with the increasing presence of Chinese and plastic product.
Traders working at the market for more than four and six decades warn that in 10 years one of the oldest traditional crafts of Mexico and Jalisco could disappear.
They complain of both the lack of aid and the lack of commercial promotion for the market by both the state and municipal government to direct tourists to the traditional and crafts areas of the market. Today those who use more crafted shoes they say are foreigners, mainly from the U.S, Denmark, Spain and Canada.
Although the family tradition resists abandoning the Mexican huarache, Don Francisco Mata Martinez, located in the stall 432 inside the market notes with sadness how footwear craftsmanship is slowly decreasing, especially since the residents of Jalisco themselves do not use products made in Jalisco.
He mentions that since the signing of the Free Trade Agreement sales have decreased by 80%. “As a craftsman, all my family since my grandparents have been tanners and huaracheros since birth and its truly sad that people no longer use crafts or leather Huaraches (sandals). “
While foreign fashion is increasingly imposing itself in Mexico leaving the traditional huarache further behind, foreign tourists continue arriving seeking this traditional footwear for casual wear, there are even those who buy several pairs of either open or closed sandals.
Mr. Jose Magallon of “Huarachería Sandra”, who is a fourth generation Huaracheria owner agrees: “There is little tourism, there are few sales, we usually sell a little more to tourists.” Normally less than five pairs are sold per day and with tourists it’s as many as 15 pairs.
Both traders mention that people nowadays prefer to wear synthetic shoes to follow the fashion trends, without thinking that these types of shoes “make the feet sick.”
Traditional Huarache designs include both more colorful and folkloric designs for women and for men there is also the Huarache Zapato (closed shoe Huarache) shoe, with prices ranging from 100 to 700 pesos depending on the style.
With a lump in his throat, Francisco Mata, says: “What we currently know as craft is about to disappear, not just in the Huarache, but also the Serape Poncho and everything else that is made from leather, because people are not buying. The native or craftsman, will disappear if nothing is done to support them. In not such a long time, like in 10 years this is will all be over. “
A possible parallel to this period of poor sales at the Mercado San Juan De Dios is that there is currently a trend in the UK and in many other parts of the world where main street, high street and downtown retailers are having to close down because of poor sales and reduced trade due to the increase of out of town shopping centers and internet sales.
The factors determining this decline in sales at the Mercado San Juan De Dios and the UK high streets are probably many. But an important factor to consider is that shopping habits are probably changing and likely nowadays more consumers prefer to shop in newer, clean looking, air conditioned or heated malls with easy car access and parking if they have to go out shopping. Maybe average Mexicans don’t shop in old markets any more and only tourists already staying downtown are drawn by the traditional yet weathered charm of the Mercado? Maybe the Mercado San Juan De Dios is the wrong retail space to both attract and sell Huaraches to Mexican consumers? Maybe many consumers around the world prefer buying on the internet so they don’t have to spend countless hours driving and walking to buy something specific and often at a higher price?
In this instance because craftspeople and small retailers at San Juan De Dios dedicate so much of their time to their craft and have little money and time to invest effectively in commercial and promotional aspects of their business, maybe governments (this solution could also work in countries where small high street retailers are closing down) should invest in creating new and well planned retail spaces both in, or near out of town malls and most importantly on the internet, allowing crafts people and small retailers to also sell and prosper through these new and more commercial locations and retail channels.
Lets face it strip malls and ‘big box’ retail spaces aren’t usually made from expensive materials, so maybe creating inexpensive and subsidized out of town retail spaces like malls, or even assistance setting up an internet retail site for small retailers would be another way to boost today’s economy.
However its worth considering that although this would provide people with jobs, it would not repopulate the abandoned high streets in the UK for which another plan would be necessary, maybe the creation of a residential area with bars, restaurants, entertainment and some well targeted retail would work well. Essentially turning old office spaces into designer apartments, old TV shops into nice restaurants and old supermarkets into new retail concepts; the creation of a new neighborhood in an old city center.
On a side note, here is a link to a short video explaining how the UK might redefine and repopulate the high street:-
The main market in Guadalajara, San Juan De Dios probably sells the largest quantity of Huaraches than any other place in Mexico. The Mercado was my first stop in Mexico when I began this blog last year and a few weeks ago I decided to stop by and see if there were any new Huarache designs for sale.
A year on and I would say the quantity of Huaraches for sale has doubled and the quality seems to have improved also. I asked a Huarachero friend at the market about this and he agreed with me; “Huaraches have become much more popular this year”.
The Mercado mainly sells Huaraches from Sahuayo, but also many from different parts of Jalisco, almost all have already been covered on this blog.
There is a Huarache for almost everyone at San Juan De Dios.
With prices ranging from between MX$150 and MX$200 I was surprised to find this pair of fine Huaraches selling for MX$500. Called the ‘Cien Clavos” as usual the retailer would not tell me where they came from. But I was later told that they might be from Mazamitla and the Huarahero typically sets up a stand in front of the main church on Sundays..