A few weeks ago, while on holiday in Mexico I visited Senor Porfirio Montero Ortiz in Umán, a small town just south west of Merida, Yucatán.
“Don Pio” as he is affectionately known by everyone locally, has been making Alpargatas for almost 60 years since he was just 12 years old.
This huge mural in the photo below was painted by a local artist called Arnold Daniel Cruz Cetina, also Datoer, or Datoergs on Instagram. And is part of a series of portraits called “Pintado Recuerdos”, or Painted Memories.
Like Huaraches, Alpargatas are traditional Mexican footwear from the Yucatán peninsula. The earliest style is probably the “Aplargatas de Orejas” meaning “Eared” Alpargatas (please use the search bar on the top right to find more posts). They are simply made from a leather sole and Henequen/Sisal chord, and are similar to the “Pata de Gallo” Huaraches from Central and Western Mexico.
Don Pio is a master craftsman and makes some of the best Alpargatas in the Yucatán peninsula, some of which have won prizes in regional crafts competitions. The quality of his work and detail of his designs means that at the most he can make not more than 2 pairs per day.
Probably the most iconic regional style of Alpargatas are the “Chillonas”, a man’s style which are often used for dancing the local Jarana Yucateca dance.
“Chillonas” literally means “Squeakers” and are called this way because of the squeaky sound created by the multi layered leather soles while dancing.
Then there is the interesting “De Cordel” Alpargata which is an embellished version of the “De Oreja” Alpargatas which are commonly worn in the countryside.
And the “Cruzado” Alpargata is also an embellished version of the traditional style sandals.
A true artisan, Don Pio also wears his own designs which is quite unusual for Huaracheros.
The workshop of Don Pio is at Calle 21 N.113, just located behind the Town Hall in Umán, Yucatán.
Tel. 999.448.5859 and 999.645.9839
And on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Talabartería-Umán-181516822012752/
More photos soon on Huarache Blog on Instagram
Tejiendo Nuestros Pasos is a stunning and truly authentic short documentary that softly reveals the often overlooked humanity that lies behind Huaraches.
It follows 3 Huarachero Artisans through their Huarache making process, as they talk about their life in Tacambaro a small town in the south of Michoacan state.
Daniel Ysi Zarco and his team created and filmed this documentary in reaction to the closing of so many Huarache workshops in Tacambaro during his life, with the loss of local identity and economic self sufficiency caused by the growth of modern long range distribution and mass production.
Nowadays brightly colored Huaraches are quite normal, but in 2010 when I first arrived in Mexico all Huaraches were either tan, or chocolate brown color..Sure there was also the Green, White and Red style worn by Wixarika, but unbelievably Huarache design didn’t include bright colours.
If 8 years ago you asked any artisan to make colored Huaraches and they would reply skeptically that “colored Huaraches looked strange and were not commercial”. I thought maybe because they were still mostly focusing on men’s styles.
And it was almost impossible to find affordable colored vegetable tanned leather in Mexico, because there was little to no demand for it.
Then around 2013, I noticed some bright purple and turquoise hand painted leather women’s Huarache styles. Despite admiring the improvised tenacity of Anukia, my first impression was that hand painting the natural colored tan leather looked crude and made the Huaraches look coated and unrefined.
But the result was a surprising massive colorful explosion of leather weaves, mostly in the Huarache making town of Sahuayo, Michoacán.
And the beggining of a National and International Huarache tsunami, boom of colored women’s Huaraches which was a lifeline to the craft of Huarache making.
From some of the biggest international footwear fashion brands, to small social entrepreneur start-ups and the smallest family workshops, by 2015 the coloured Huarache had become a global footwear sensation.
Such a big demand also led to coloured veg. tan leather production and therefore even the few remaining Mexican veg. tanneries also benefitted. And today Huarache veg. tan leather has become widely available in many colours and has a rich smooth finish.
The Huarache craft is flourishing again and it all began thanks to Anukia who introduced a few hand painted coloured Huaraches, made in a small family workshop.
Anukia a creative couple from Guadalajara who started an International coloured Huaraches trend.
Anukia, the original coloured fashion Huarache.
To give credit, where credit is due, I recently contacted them to congratulate them. Please click to the next page, after the jump to read what they told me about their journey.
For years I’ve shared photos of Huaraches and regrettably not enough of the Artisans who make such beautiful designs and their personal stories.
A few photos from an exhibition I’m preparing at a major Museum early next year.
©2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED MARKUS KITTNER
I first saw José Espino’s boxing boot type Burras in the market of Irapuato and was very lucky that the stall owner gave me his phone number.
Sr. Espino also makes the cleanest Burra boots which look a bit like Timberlands. He calls this style “Huarache Fino”.
When on Wednesday I travelled to Puruándiro to visit him, I also discovered that José is probably the last Artisan in Mexico making the most traditional Mexican boots which he calls “Huarache De Pala Abierto” which I had only ever seen at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.
But probably more remarkable is that he is 87 years young and works alone!
The “Pala” Huarache is essentially a hand stitched moccasin boot.
Except the insole is made of stiff sole leather that is wrapped wet and formed over the Huarache last. See how over the years the nails have created a line across the last.
I wonder if its origins could come from Native American Moccasins like those worn by Navajos.
José Espino cuts each thick leather insole and sole by hand over the last without using molds, or cutting dies. In this photo below he is piercing the insole to show me the stitching process.
The “Pala” Huarache is a very original and traditional open toed Mexican boot. The style is also known as the “roba mais” since land owners prohibited workers from wearing these boots in corn fields saying corn kernels could be scooped into the boots and stolen.
Then about 40 years ago the “Pala” Huarache was made fashionable by closing the toe, giving the boot a more commercial appearance.
Sometimes I’m asked why I chose Huaraches?
A question which most times I find hard to give the same reply to because there are so many reasons that I usually don’t know where to start. But just a few days ago a curious analogy came to mind which I think can best serve to explain why I decided to document, promote and make Huaraches in Mexico, and may even transmit some of my emotions which motivated me.
If you can, put yourselves in my shoes of a footwear designer and try to imagine a future where most people don’t play sport and there is hardly any interest in sport shoes. Maybe because younger generations prefer playing advanced video games which have become a more interesting way to experience the dynamic.
What if just a few small factories were left still making performance sport shoes. Some interesting, unique, sophisticated and technical footwear designs, but mostly made for just a few 50 year olds who still enjoy kicking, or throwing a ball around on weekends.
If you felt that sport is healthy for the body, mind, teamwork and community spirit; would you support the sports shoe industry, despite knowing that it had become culturally unpopular, or irrelevant?
Admittedly this scenario seems strange and unlikely, but I feel that its pretty much what has happened to Huaraches, they just ceased becoming relevant. Something I realize now can happen to anything at anytime.
Because just like sneakers are most popular today, 50 years ago most Mexicans wore Huaraches and I don’t think anyone imagined they could/would disappear because they were as Mexican as tortillas, or tequila. Usually Huaraches, like food were made locally and could be purchased directly from many workshops and artisans in town. Not only but the leather was tanned with natural ingredients as tree bark and water.
Today only a few Huarache factories, workshops and artisans remain and despite the recent Huaraches fashion, many in small towns and villages continue closing for lack of demand and the artisan’s old age, whose children have gone on to work in other jobs.
In the long run its possible that the cost of losing small family owned Huarache workshops is outweighed by the benefits of a more centralized and efficient industrial system and technological society. But, can anyone imagine Mexico without tortillas, or tequila? Or a world without sport, or sport shoes. Its the paradox of progress; but should the past and the future be mutually exclusive? And can harmony exist between both?
If you worked in the footwear industry and thought Huaraches could offer additional fashion, health, social and cultural benefits, what would you do?
Un Futuro sin Deportes, sin Tenis, sin Huaraches
A veces me preguntan por qué elegí los Huaraches?
Pero a menudo me resulta difícil resumir con la misma respuesta porque hay muchas razones y no sé por dónde empezar. Pero hace unos días me vino a la mente una curiosa analogía que creo puede bien explicar porqué decidí documentar, promover y hacer Huaraches en México, incluso puede transmitir algunas de mis emociones que me motivaron.
Póngase en mis zapatos de diseñador de calzado y traten de imaginar un futuro donde la mayoría de la gente no practica deporte y apenas hay interés en los zapatos deportivos. Talvez porque las generaciones más jóvenes prefieren jugar videojuegos avanzados que se han convertido en una forma más interesante de sentirse dinámico.
Y si sólo unas pocas pequeñas fábricas se quedaban haciendo zapatos de deporte. Diseños de calzado interesantes, únicos, sofisticados y técnicos, pero realizados en su mayoría solo para unos pocos mayores de 50 años que todavía disfrutan de patear, o lanzar una balón en los fines de semana.
Si sentía que el deporte era saludable para el cuerpo, la mente, el trabajo en equipo y el espíritu comunitario; apoyarías la industria del calzado deportivo, a pesar de saber que se había vuelto culturalmente impopular, o irrelevante?
Es cierto que este escenario parece extraño y poco probable, pero creo que es más o menos lo que le ha sucedido con los Huaraches, simplemente dejaron de ser relevantes. Algo que me doy cuenta ahora puede suceder a cualquier cosa en cualquier momento.
Al igual que los tenis son los más populares hoy en día, hace 50 años la mayoría de los mexicanos llevaban Huaraches y no creo que nadie imaginara que podrían desaparecer porque eran tan mexicanos como las tortillas, o el tequila. Por lo general Huaraches, como la comida se hacían localmente y se podía comprar directamente de muchos talleres y artesanos en la ciudad. No solo, el cuero estaba curtido con ingredientes naturales como corteza de árbol y agua.
Hoy sólo quedan unas pocas fábricas, talleres y artesanos de Huarache, ya pesar de la reciente moda del Huarache, muchos ubicados en los pueblos y ranchos continúan cerrando por falta de demanda y la vejez de los artesanos, cuyos hijos han ido a trabajar en otros trabajos.
Es posible que a largo plazo el costo de perder pequeños talleres familiares de Huarache sea compensado por los beneficios de un sistema industrial y una sociedad tecnológica más centralizada y eficiente. ¿Pero, puede alguien imagínese México sin tortillas ni tequila? O un mundo sin deporte, ni zapatos deportivos. Es la paradoja del progreso; ¿pero debrian el pasado y el futuro ser mutuamente excluyentes? ¿Y Puede existir armonía entre ambos?
Si trabajabas en la industria del calzado y pensabas que el Huaraches podría ofrecer beneficios adicionales de moda, salud, sociales y culturales, ¿qué harías?
Yesterday I met Diego Gervasio selling his Huaraches at the Santo Spirito Sunday Market in Florence on the 3rd Sunday of the month (on the 4th Sunday he sells in Rome).
Diego makes his huaraches from local vegetable tanned leather, tanned in Tuscany.
His huaraches sell for €130 and are all made to measure.
For custom orders Diego can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel. +39 366 2884842
I wish I could have stayed longer exchanging anecdotes and ideas.
I hope to write more about Diego’s Huarache story soon.
Cenovio Ramirez also known as “Tarengo” or Sparrow, is one of the originators of finely woven Huaraches. He started fine weaving Huaraches as a personal challenge 30 years ago and has been the inspiration of many local artisans.
I have one sample available for sale made from natural non coloured vegetable tanned goat leather in size US Mens 8-8.5.
The “Plazero” style is a forgotten style from the past which Cenovio has made again after so many years. Its a very rare style and I can guarantee 110% that this Huarache doesn’t exist for sale anywhere.
The colour of the leather is still pale since the Hauraches are recently made. But as with all vegetable tanned leathers, these Huaraches will darken to a honey colour in a couple of months.
Antonio Granados is probably one of the 4 best Huarache Artisans in Mexico.
Recently he made a few pairs of rare traditional Huarache styles that his father in law used to make 20 or so years ago. Styles which you can no longer find in the shops.
I was able to snatch up those 8 pairs and have them for sale in my store HERE, or click on the “VISIT MY STORE” icon in the top left of the screen and go to the “SAMPLES AND SALE” section.
The TONCHEZ is a really creative twist to the traditional Ranchero Huarache.
And as soon as I wore them in the center of town so many people asked me where I had bought them, maybe because they look like cool Huarache High Tops. And of course you can also wear them the same way with your jeans inside.
This Huaraches style was invented by Antonio who is a traditional Haurachero Artisan and 2 friends also called Antonio, hence the name TONCHEZ, derived from “Tonio”.
For fun they even created a logo to emblazon the bold tongue and heel.
Until now the TONCHEZ was never made commercially because the large amount of leather used, which makes this style quite expensive to sell at normal Huarache prices. While traditional Huarache retailers will also shy away from such a radical style, although teenagers ask me where to buy them all the time.
Its such a cool design that should be available, that I asked Antonio if he would be willing to make a few pairs to share with Huarache Blog readers and he agreed that he could make this exclusive Huarache design to order.
These Huaraches are made in the rugged traditional Ranchero way and Antonio the Huarachero is as old school as they come. But instead of being made from bovine leather, they are made with thick goat leather that is softer and more expensive.
If you find this style fascinating like me, you can make a special order by clicking on “VISIT MY STORE” and then the “SAMPLES SECTION” section.
Or just CLICK HERE to order.
Because these Huaraches are made to order, if you prefer a heel, or a nailed instead of stitched sole just let me know in your Storenvy Order.
Only comes in natural un-dyed leather, the traditional way. No colours, although vegetable tanned leather will naturally turn into a delicious golden honey tan colour after just a few months of wear.
It will take about 10 days from order to shipping of these Huaraches.
Free Shipping to USA, Canada and Mexico Available – Takes 2 weeks from Mexico to the USA, or Canada. Or US$30 with DHL 3 day shipping.