Luis’s huarache making workstation is empty and still. After 40 years making Huaraches Luis is ready to throw in the towel. He’s already two months behind on the rent for his workshop, so he says that he’ll terminate the lease and stop making Huaraches. But he hasn’t gone through with it yet, after years of increasing struggle as local suppliers continue to go out of business and the price of vegetable leather rises he’s still hanging in there hoping for something to change, working in the fields and doing odd jobs to make ends meet.
As I see it, although his workstation sits empty, its still there, just waiting to assist him in making another batch of Huaraches. Luis already has his valuable Huarache making skills, he just needs to find a way to sell his Huaraches at a fair price.
In a modernizing Mexico the traditional craft of Huaraches is undoubtedly facing its biggest challenges, but it is also at a dawn of a digital age that can offer big opportunities if only they can be grasped.
Luis was the second Huarachero I met in as many days who can no longer afford to make vegetable tanned leather Huaraches for the same low price of synthetic factory made sandals. He blames the retailers who aren’t willing to pay much more than 70Pesos ($6) per pair, but the bottom line is that the Mexican consumer isn’t interested in spending money on footwear that despite its unique design and naturally tanned leather also denotes a lower, farming, old world status (similar to cowboy boots in the USA).
Additionally the price of vegetable tanned leather in Mexico has been steeply rising for at least 20 years and although a few Huaracheros have reacted by learning to tan their own leathers, today they too find it hard to compete with the rock bottom prices of Mexican and Chinese factory footwear.
Over the years the two-sided supplier/retail price crunch has driven Huaracheros to make simpler designs faster with consequently less attention to detail. For a time the price advantage worked, but in the long run the lower quality of low cost Huaraches has driven the Huaraches craft and its image into the ground.
Next time you’re haggling over a pair of 150 Pesos “Pihuamo” Huaraches at retail consider that the materials costs are between 75-100 Pesos. The retailer probably buys each pair for 80-100 pesos, earning the Huarachero 5-25 Pesos per pair of “Pihuamos” (which take about an 1 hour to make). Add other overheads like shipping and rent, and its clear that very little money is to be made weaving Huaraches, despite their unique designs.
So what is being done to empower Huaracheros and counter this decline?
In a few bigger towns with more Huaracheros, the local government has stepped in to help. Not for the first time government officials are holding town meetings to inform local Huaracheros on how to setup a co-operative. Over the years Huarachero co-ops have come and gone, I think mainly because the co-op stereotype also includes sharing facilities and making the same product. Because as soon as the Co-op becomes a large scale organization, it also becomes too complicated to follow by a group of highly individualistic artisans who are used to being their own bosses. Its interesting how these meetings usually begin with government officials explaining how a co-op is formed and each Huarachero leaving the meeting determined to set up his own.
Despite resistance from local materials retailers, I think that the co-op idea can work only if its developed as simply as possible, with the lowest investments and simplest function. For example limited to making bulk orders of raw materials at lower prices. And then once a community spirit has developed, the co-op can gradually be evolve as intended to providing shared facilities, production and sales.
But what of the hundreds of isolated, last remaining Huaracheros in the small towns, who cannot form co-ops? Huaracheros who’s last resort has become to drive around the small villages nearby, spending a day’s worth of time and fuel to sell only a few pairs and return home having sold none?
I started Huarache Blog because I believe the internet offers a massive opportunity of sales and promotion for both remote Huaracheros and ones working in bigger Huarache making communities.
Unfortunately Huaracheros remain barely aware that the internet, let alone it’s commercial potential. They are mostly in their fifties, or older and have only ever dealt with customers by telephone, or in person by driving out to their stores. Additionally the Huarache making tradition is often strongest in the Mexican states with the least internet usage.
Source INEGI 2010
However because the children of Huaracheros all use Facebook very well, Huarache Blog has also started its Facebook page HERE to further encourage the growth of an online Huarache community and product exposure.
A Directory of Huaracheros
The idea began after I had spoken to Mexican owners of Huaracheria stores. They complained of traveling to buy Huaraches in important production towns like Sahuayo, and yet struggling to find even a few of the many workshops and different Huarache styles. Because although there are over 200 Huarache workshops in Sahuayo, ask a taxi driver and they’ll only take you to visit their relative Huarachero.
Also given that Huaracheros prefer telephones to computers, Huarache Blog hopes to soon introduce the bi-lingual Huarache Directory. A website that showcases the work of Huaracheros and provides their telephone numbers for national and international orders.
Because just adding a few photos and contact details to the internet takes only a few minutes, costs nothing if you know how to and can make a huge difference.
Stay tuned for The Huarache Directory coming soon.
Probably the most well known Huarachero in Mexico, with a client list of many famous “Tapatios” (Guadalajarans); Nicolás Lizares crafts Huaraches from his richly decorated ‘Taller’ in the historical mountain resort town of Tapalpa, Jalisco.
Like all fine Huaracheros you cannot find Sr. Lizares’s Huaraches in stores. He only makes Huaraches to order and during my brief visit he had some “Recargado” and “Petatillo” Brick Weave Huaraches awaiting pick-up.
If ever you’re near Guadalajara, be sure to visit the beautiful cobble stoned mountain town of Tapalpa and the workshop of Huarachero Nicolás Lizares.
The workshop is located on Zaragoza 16, Tapalpa, Jalisco, 049340, Mexico. Tel. 343.432.0376
Although I did not ask him about it, its worth noting that if you would like to purchase/order a pair does of Huaraches, but do not have time to return to pick them up most Huaracheros offer 2 options:-
1. To ship the finished Huaraches to the customer.
2. The unspoken option of selling an already finished pair which is awaiting pickup by another customer. Because the poached pair can be made again the following day.
The Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City’s Historic Center is a new and beautiful museum showcasing the best of the many Mexican crafts. The 5 floors cover almost every kind of traditional Mexican craft, from fine weaving to elaborate pottery.
The museum has kindly allowed Huarache Blog to contribute to this wonderful collection by lending 2 pairs of Huaraches made by Don Salvador and Fernando Cisneros from Concepción de Buenos Aires, Jalisco. Here is a preview of those 2 designs before they are shipped to the MAP.
The “Arana” Huarache.
And the “Recargado” Huarache.
The “Recargado” Huarache is made with 64 overlapping weaves in the vamp and a total of about 42 meters of leather strip is used for every pair.
Next time you’re in Mexico City visit the Museo de Arte Popular, on block from the Alaaeda at Revillagigedo N.11. Free on Sundays.
For more information about the Museo de Arte Popular also known as MAP, check out their website HERE
A few years ago I posted many photos of their fine Huaraches in a post titled “Huaraches Cisneros, Un Huarache De Lujo – Luxury Huaraches from Concepción de Buenos Aires“.
Recently, I was able to spend the morning with Don Salvador and Fernando Cisneros and document some of their daily Huarache making routine.
For many generations the Cisneros have been making some of the best Huaraches in Mexico. Ask anyone in the know and they’ll tell you of Concepción de Buenos Aires, Jalisco and of it’s exceptional Huaraches.
Work begins at 9.30 am with the Huarache upper which is cut out freehand and draped over the last to make sure it’s the right shape.
To determine where each hole is punched, lines are marked out on the upper with the back of a blade and a compass.
While Fernando is cutting the upper, Don Salvador his father cuts the leather strips and skives them by hand. It usually takes a couple of passes until they are dead straight and of a consistent thickness.
Fernando in the mean time punches holes in the upper with a chisel.
Every now and then a customer will also come into the ‘Taller’ workshop to get a trim and Don Salvador puts down his knife and lends his excellent cutting skills to clipping hair.
A couple of Huaraches woven yesterday still need to be lightly hammered to smooth out the leather weave, this is called “Asentar”.
The upper punched and cut, Fernando hand stitches the “Fuerza” strip on the vamp using an interesting wooden leg vice to keep the upper from moving.
After which the sole is traced directly off the last and the holes are punched out. The process is all done by eye and no stencils are used.
Then the holes are first marked lightly on the leather sole with the punch and if they all line up they are punched out. Animal fat is spread over the area which is punched to make the hole cut cleaner.
Once one sole is punched it is overlaid to the other and the holes are marked onto the other sole. Each sole is punched twice this is construction technique specific to the Cisneros. Punching a slit into the side of each hole, to guide the direction of each leather weave as it makes its way back up the last.
The upper lining is stitched on and by 3pm the upper is ready to be woven.
For more information about Huaraches Cisneros click HERE
With over 200 Huarache workshops and factories there are a lot of Huaracheros in the town of Sahuayo, Michoacan.
Last week I discovered a few of the finest.
As the price of Huaraches continues to drop, the quality of most Huaraches is lessening and they are being made faster with fewer weaves. Not because the Huarachero Artisans prefer this, but because most Mexican consumers aren’t willing to pay much more than $10-$15 for a pair. Unfortunately in a modernizing Mexico the lack of branding and the simple market retail locations do little to promote and elevate this sophisticated craft.
Luckily a few Huarachero artisans remain committed in maintaining their high standards despite the lessening demand for fine Huaraches.
Sr. Gerardo Seguro is one of a select Huaracheros in Sahuayo still making finely woven Huaraches. The ones below are called “Ranchero” Huaraches.
Sr. Antonio Granados who lives across town also continues making the finest woven Huaraches.
The style below he calls Huaraches “Marta”. Keep in mind that woven Huaraches are all made from a continuous strip of leather that is gradually woven around the last and into the sole. This unique footwear construction process naturally secures the upper to the sole without the use of glue, knots, or nails.
He also makes the “Petatillo” Huarache for men.
And the “Petatillo Finito”, a Huarache so finely woven that the heel counts 45 layers of leather strip woven through it! Click on each photo for a closer high resolution look at these details.
Sr. Granadas is known for his creativity and for making unique Huarache designs.
His custom made “Piramidal” Huaraches below are some of the most interesting Huaraches I have seen.
These are his personal pair with a more traditional sole.
For anyone wanting to place an order, Sr. Granadas can be reached at 353.532.0996 and Sr. Seguro at 353.531.7265.
A few months ago I started úkata an online Huaracheria Store and began selling the “Cien Clavos” Huarache by Huaraches Martínez.
Probably the Finest Work Huaraches in Mexico you can see better photos and a detailed description if you continue scrolling only a few posts down.
To buy the “Cien Clavos” Huarache by Huaraches Martínez click on the VISIT MY STORE link in the side bar or click HERE.
I was very lucky to see Sr. Martínez weave a pair of “Cien Clavos” Huaraches and was able to photograph the process.
Remember that woven Huaraches are woven from a continuous strip of leather and no glue or knots are used to secure the upper to the sole.
Once the leather strip has been trimmed by hand to be perfectly straight, the process of weaving which takes a couple of hours begins. Below is a short highlight of this highly specialized footwear construction method.
But the Huaraches aren’t finished yet, they still need the buckle and the sole to be attached.