The Crafting of Traditional Vegetable Tanned Huarache Footwear Leather

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.

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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.

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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.

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Don Vincente and Don Lucas – Huaracheros From Atoyac, Jalisco

Vincente Torres Perez and Jacinto Lucas De La Cruz are the last remaining Huaracheros in Atoyac, Jalisco.

The Huaraches in Atoyac have the distinctively pointed soles. Srs. Torres and Lucas make many styles and their most popular are the “Tejido” in the “Finito” (fine weave) version.

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The “Tejido Sencillo” Huarache with the “Fuerza” strip of leather on the toe.

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And the “Tejido Sencillo” Huarache.

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They also refurbish old Huaraches, something I have never seen before. In this case the customer wanted to keep the original leather sole and an new upper was woven into it.

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All their Huaraches are made using the same traditional techniques using wooden mesquite lasts.

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Many Huaraches are also made to measure.

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All the strips of leather are softened in oil and water and left to dry overnight before weaving.

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The workshop “Taller” where Don Vincente and Don Lucas work is about as authentic as it gets.

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A cool open space with adobe walls and a thatched roof, old wooden tools and vegetable tanned leathers abounding.

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They still had a child’s version to the traditional field Huarache the “Alcapoyo”. This Huarache style is one of the oldest and simplest styles. The likely successor of the “Pata de Gallo” and the design bridging that to the complex woven ones we see today.

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For orders Don Vincente and Don Lucas can be reached at the following NEW number: 372.410.2115