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.
Compare the content of Huarache Blog and the Huarache Directory to other sources on Huaraches either online (pinterest, instagram, facebook), or in books and I think you will agree there exists nothing similar. Without travelling to Mexico, who, or where else can you learn about the craft of Mexican Huaraches, or contact Huarache Artisans directly?
Please share the link of this blog and the Huarache Directory if you think they are interesting.
Because despite tagging with multiple words including Huarache, Huaraches, or Guaraches, and the word Huarache being written countless times, unfortunately this Blog’s content is disappearing from Google search and being replaced and drowned out by commercial websites and photos of generic sport shoes and mass produced sandals.
And unfortunately the same is happening with http://www.thehuarachedirectory.wordpress.com the only resource dedicated to putting people directly in contact with Huarache artisans. I’m at a loss for words as to why this not for profit important service is being burried by less valuable content?
Without spending money on SEO agencies, I’m not sure how else can I promote the craft of Huaraches? Especially now that I no longer live in Mexico, it’s impossible for me to regularly update this blog.
Maybe the Google algorithm does not consider old blog posts relevant as newer publications. Or most Google users are looking specifically to buy Huarache branded sport shoes, so its hard to fault an algorithm that is doing an excellent job of identifying the most relevant websites.
But I’m saddened that over time fewer people will be able access, or come across this site via search engines and instead be shown links to retail providing only commercial mainstream footwear. For old Huarache Blog readers none of this will matter, but what about all the new readers? What Huarache content will be accessible to them online in the future?
Really, I wouldn’t mind if my Huarache infirmation was replaced by equally relevant, or better content. If someone in Mexico would post about the craft of Huaraches and promote Artisans I would gladly support and promote their blog. But so far no one seems to be stepping up.
It seems that Google search is becoming an online supermarket. I’ve noticed that Bing search results seem to be more inclusive, balanced and content selective.
Imagine if Wikipedia entries were replaced by commercial products and brands sharing the same name. If it became difficult to access informative content.
Unfortunately Wikipedia won’t even mention, or publish the link to Huarache Blog because their rules state that blogs are unreliable sources of information.
Is this the future we want for the internet?
The internet should be for learning and sharing, as much as it should be for buying.
If you happen to reach this blog, or the Huarache Directory and find them interesting, please mention it to your friends, or share their links, even to http://www.huaracheblog.tumblr.com which has an amazing and largest number of interesting Huarache photos to share, especially compared to any search engine.
Besides my Tumblr updates I don’t post much since leaving Mexico, but I think there doesn’t exist anywhere in the world such a big resource regarding the unique craft of Huaraches and traditional Mexican Woven Footwear.
When it comes to the craft of Huaraches, Huarache Blog contains more information than Facebook, Pinterest and even Instagram. It’s a shame to see it become relegated because of a simple technicality.
At long last, I’m very pleased share my Huaraches exhibition at the stunning MAP museum in Mexico City from Feb.28th to May 6th.
This unique exhibition will feature the finest and rarest bespoke traditional Mexican woven footwear.
The most complex leather weaves made by the most talented and few remaining Huarache Artisans.
This exhibition is a dream come true and I would like to thank @map_mexico museum very much.
The traditional Huaraches from Rio Verde in San Luis Potosi are constructed/lasted in an interesting way.
The upper is made in 2 pieces which are individually nailed flat between the insole and outsole.
Once the Huaraches look like a sole with wings, the 2 flat vegetable tanned leather sides are wet and then cinched together with laces to form around the last.
I often wondered if and when this moment would come.
Its a heartbreaking choice to make, since I care so much about this craft.
But after a number of years the time has come to hang up my Huaraches and taking a step back. My Museum exhibition is still scheduled for February and I will continue adding a few photos on http://www.huaracheblog.tumblr.com, but I will be leaving Mexico indefinitely tomorrow.
The last seven years have been my most amazing and intense journey of highs, lows and switchbacks. Like a pinball, down the rabbit hole into the real, raw and unsheltered world that is traditional rural Mexico. I never imagined that my interest in one object; such as a woven rustic leather sandal from rural Mexico, could reveal so much about humanity and myself.
The Kindness, Joy, Strength, Beauty, Tragedy, Deceit and Danger I experienced in Mexico have forged an emotional bond that is very hard to break. Mexico where everything felt possible, but was equally improbable, so inspired me to challenge the status quo and extend myself as much as I could. As a Design Consultant, creating a Huarache Brand and New Huarache Designs, Researching and Supporting the Craft and its Artisans across Mexico. Not to mention learning an new language and business administration…oh and the heat!
But maybe I tried to much, over extended and now this chapter has seems to have reached its natural end.
I hope my work on Huaraches has helped, and that others in their own ways will continue to help sustain this precious cultural treasure, which is not just Mexican, but of the World.
I encourage everyone who sees an opportunity to do meaningful good in their life to take it, albeit with a little caution and more careful planning. Because you may not get a second chance in the short time we have on this little rocky ball spinning in space.
I’m very grateful for this special opportunity of a lifetime and for everyone I met on this journey.
Thank you all for your support.
I hope I will be able to return one day, and until then my friends, hasta luego.
P.S. I will not be selling anymore Huaraches. But you may be able to buy directly from the artisans by visiting The Huarache Directory HERE
Muchas veces me he preguntado si y cuando llegaría este momento.
Es una decisión desgarradora de tomar, ya que quiero tanto a esta artesania.
Pero después varios anos ha llegado el momento de colgar mi Huaraches y dar un paso atrás. Mi exposición de Museo aún está programada para febrero y seguiré agregando algunas fotos en http://www.huaracheblog.tumblr.com, pero mañana dejaré México indefinidamente.
Los últimos siete años han sido mi viaje más increíble e intenso de altos, bajos y retrocesos. Como un pinball, por la “amadriguera del conejo” en el mundo real, crudo y sin abrigo que es el México rural tradicional. Nunca imaginé que mi interés en un objeto; Tal como una rústica sandalia en cuero tejido de México rural, podría revelar tanto sobre la humanidad y mí mismo.
La bondad, la alegría, la fuerza, la belleza, la tragedia, el engaño y el peligro que vivi en México han forjado un vínculo emocional que es muy difícil de romper. México, donde todo me pareci posible, pero fue igualmente improbable, me inspiró para desafiar el statu quo y extenderme tanto como pude. Como Consultor de Diseño, creando una Marca de Huaraches y Nuevos Diseños, Investigando y Apoyando la Artesanía y sus Artesanos en México. Por no mencionar el aprendizaje de un nuevo idioma y incluso en la administración empresarial … oh y el calor!
Pero tal vez traté de extender demasiado y ahora este capítulo parece llegado a su fin natural.
Espero que mi trabajo sobre los Hauraches haya ayudado y que otros en sus propias maneras continúen ayudando a sostener este precioso tesoro cultural, que no es sólo mexicano, sino del mundo.
Animo a todos los que ven la oportunidad de hacer un bien significativo en su vida para tomarla, aunque con un poco de precaución y una planificación más cuidadosa.
Porque tal vez no tendrás una segunda oportunidad en el corto tiempo que tenemos sobre esta “piedrota” que gira en el espacio y que llamamos tierra.
Estoy muy agradecido por esta oportunidad especial de toda una vida y por todos que conocí en este viaje.
Gracias a todos por su apoyo.
Espero poder volver un día, y hasta entonces mis amigos, hasta luego.
P.S. No venderé más Huaraches. Pero tal vez pueden comunicarse y comprar directamente de los artesanos, visitando The Huarache Directory HERE