SECOND ARRIVALS – The úkata “Pihuamo” by Huaraches Martínez – The Finest Pihuamo Huaraches in MexicoPosted: September 11, 2013
The design of these classic Huaraches originally comes from the small town of Pihuamo in southern Jalisco.
José Martínez makes hands down the best quality “Pihuamo” Huaraches you will find anywhere. They’re very far from your typical transmission oil/diesel dyed field Huarache.
José Martínez leather lines all his Huaraches with a thinner and softer leather using a traditional pedal powered sewing machine. In fact none of his Huaraches are made using any electrical tools. The only use for electricity is to power the radio. What’s more, given all the natural light that fills the “Taller” workshop during the working hours even the lights are hardly ever turned on, making the carbon footprint from his business minimal.
He also organically tans all the Huarache leather himself to his exact specifications and thickness for a consistently high quality. Personally tanning each batch with tree bark for 4 months compared to 3 weeks for industrial vegetable tanned leather and 1 day for chrome tanned leather.
Echoing other traditions as making fine wine, or whiskey, the thick insole leather of Martínez Huaraches is tanned using local Encino Oak bark. I can’t think of a more natural material to be walking on.
By popular request I’m offering some “Pihuamo” style Huaraches from Huaraches Martínez which you can buy HERE and also in size Mens US 12.
$30 DHL shipping to USA, Canada and Mexico.
The outsole is made from the most hard wearing central treaded part of a truck tire. Soles made from the central part of tires are nowadays rare because modern tires have metal belts that cannot be cut. To maintain his high standards José Martínez searches out only old school tires that use chord belts and doesn’t compromise by using lower quality sidewall rubber for his Huarache soles.
Talpa de Allende is another pretty Mexican Mountain town and a good place to escape the summer heat. The town is famous for its Virgin of Talpa Shrine that attracts many pilgrims, Chitle the original pre-hispanic chewing gum made from the local Zapote rubber trees and its Huaraches.
With a good flow of tourists in Talpa de Allende and because tourists are always been eager to buy local crafts as souvenirs, the local Huaracheros haven’t struggled as much as in other parts of Mexico. It was refreshing to see the rare sight of young Huarache making artisans in a small workshop/store at one side of the main church.
The typical Talpa Huaraches have a distinct “grain ear” weave and a very short tongue.
The same style is made with more, or fewer weaves and with a strap for the traditional field working design.
The more rugged field version with strap has big staples securing the insole to the outsole. This is because it uses fewer nails.
The soles are constructed in an unusual way where the insole and outsole are first nailed and stapled together after which the huarache upper is woven on. Notice that there are no nails in the sole near the woven parts of the Huaraches.
In this a short video Huarachero Melquiades Robles Jara shows how to make a basic “Petatillo”, or “Zapatilla” Huarache.
Via VULTURE COMPANY
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.
Unlike most mainstream footwear, Mexican Huarache footwear leather is still vegetable tanned using wood. Fewer tanneries in the world still offer vegetable tanned leathers because of the slower tanning process and higher costs of the natural raw materials used.
The natural benefits of vegetable tanned leather are:
1. The organic tanning process is non toxic and has a much lesser impact on the environment and the health of the tanners (chrome tannery workers have a 20%-50% higher chance of cancer risk).
2. The leather maintains some of its natural qualities to stretch and adapt to your foot shape.
A few months ago in a post titled “Taller De Curtiduria González – Vegetable Tanning the Best Huarache Leathers” I introduced Jesús and Antonio González the father and son tanners in Colima, Mexico who still practice this traditional and centuries old tanning method and unlike many modern tanneries still tan by hand.
The González tannery offers a variety of hides from goat to pig and they also tan single hides for individual customers. But their mostly tanned leather is bovine which is the leather used to make Huaraches.
Their most popular item is bull leather which is tanned with the pod of local “Cascalote” vine. Bull leather is traditionally used to make Huarache soles, while Cow leather is used to make the Huarache uppers.
As many tanners are very guarded about revealing their process, I consider myself very lucky to have been so generously guided through their entire vegetable tanning process and gained greater awareness as to how Huarache leather is made.
What follows is a photo essay of the traditional vegetable leather tanning process used by the Gonzálezes in enough detail, that I have been hesitant to show it in its real and sometimes gory detail, for fear of damaging the appeal of Huaraches. But I believe that this quasi-handcrafted process and its end product are noble. As one of the most environmentally friendly tanning methods there is, traditional vegetable tanning should be promoted and hopefully increase in demand.
WARNING: Tanning is the treatment of raw hide so that it remains stable and does not decompose. The photos in this post show the stark reality of the tanning environment that is necessary to provide the leather we use. Please be aware that the graphic nature of some images may be disturbing to some readers.
Please click below to continue reading.