A Gorgeous Walking Shoe - You Must See These Mexican Huaraches for Men and Women
A company beautiful both inside and out, Espiritu creates to-die-for huaraches for men and women
The phrase “gorgeous walking shoe” is usually an oxymoron. You might find walking shoes that are not-ugly. If you are really lucky you might find a pair that is almost pretty. Gorgeous never.
When was the last time you received a compliment for your walking shoes other than “My, those look comfortable.”
After four years living in Mexico, imagine my surprise to find myself whipping my head around to take a second look at some huaraches at an upscale market in Denver’s hip RINO district during the holidays.
Or maybe I’m just a lemming; a small crowd of young people had also gathered around to try on Espiritu’s shoes, the company's stall tucked between the vendors of artisanal gin and custom jewelry design.
After four years in Mexico, I’ve seen a lot of huaraches. The traditional Mexican sandals are sold in stores and street stalls all over Mexico and are popular online in the United States. They are so deeply embedded in Mexican culture that the Denver Art Museum had a glass-encased exhibition of them at a recent art show featuring contemporary artists from Guadalajara.
Some of these huaraches on-line and in Mexican shops are cute, however they always lacked the buttery softness you look for in a fine leather shoe. The leather always looked roughly-hewn and hard to break in.
Not these by Espiritu (espirituculture.com). Not only were they creamy, they were high-fashion - loaded with color and detail.
These were the kind of leather you ache for in a jacket or pair of shoes. Cole Haan leather. Burberry leather. Picturing myself wearing them in Denver and Mexico, for the first time in months I craved. I came back to the U.S. only to discover my perfect Mexican walking shoe.
The story behind these shoes is as beautiful as the shoes are themselves.
Os Yapor and Francisco Alvarez have been best friends since they were 13-year-olds in Chihuahua, Mexico. As teenagers, they had always shared an interest in fashion.
Eventually, Francisco moved to El Paso to finish his degree in Architecture. Oz moved to Colorado where he finished his bachelors in Industrial Engineering. Francisco did a summer abroad in Seoul, Korea while Oz did a semester abroad in Paris.
After they graduated college, they went on a together on a trip to Michoacan in central Mexico, where they met women selling the shoes out of their small shop.
The women told the new graduates the history of their operation, which was a collaborative of women who had had rough beginnings in life. Another woman had taken them in and given them jobs hand making these shoes. She taught them the techniques of making the shoes as a means to help them create a better future.
Os and Francisco loved the story and the shoes so much they bought a couple pairs to help out (and look better for the rest of their trip). When they came back to the U.S. and wore them out, lots of people started asking them where they could get some. That's how their company, Espiritu, happened.
Francisco initially had begun working for HKS as an Architect and Oz began working for Hevvy-Toyo Pumps as an Applications Engineer, both practicing their degrees. After some time of working together on the side with their shoe business, they saw a lot of potential in Espiritu and decided to leave their jobs to pursue a dream in the fashion industry.
Espiritu company is divided into two parts. One is our for-profit entity and the other a non-profit. The for-profit, business side doesn't abandon the spirit of their non-profit, “to collaborate with indigenous artists to bring customers a premium quality shoe that becomes unique to the customer through traditional leather weaving techniques. Each pair is handmade according to timeless standards passed down through the generations to share with us.”
I had to ask Oz about the leather of the shoe, which had so captivated me at their point of sale and was so different from what I had seen in Mexico and online. Before this, I had never seen golden huaraches or brown with red insoles, or rainbow colored.
“The leather generally used in huaraches when you buy them in the streets or local shops is very low quality, which starts cracking and peeling off really fast.” he said. “ We didn't like this and didn't want to put our names to a product like that so we started doing lots of quality tests.”
After some visits to the "workplace" in Michoacan and doing these quality tests, the engineer and architect-turned-fashion-designers came out with the leather they now use, the finest quality of genuine leather with natural dyes so they could color the shoe any way they wanted.
“To this day we have not found any other person or company manufacturing huaraches with the standards we use. We're way above any competitor. We have compared our leather to be the finest available in the market, similar to Italian leather,” Oz said.
The business partners had for a long time have viewed Mexico as an emerging fashion hub. Today fashion is a big sector of the Mexican economy. They cite their favorite designers as Cristobal Balenciaga (Francisco), Ricardo Seco (both Francisco and Oscar) and Anuar Layon (Oscar).
They share many other designers enthusiasm for future of Mexico in the fashion world, a reputation being validated over and over at international fashion weeks. “Mexico has always been very colorful in its traditions and culture. For us, fashion goes beyond products. It's about impulses, feelings, ideas, and emotions. Mexican design has been greatly valued all over the world for the cultural representation in its fashion design.”
They are very aware of the misconceptions people have about Mexico, its culture, and products. ”It’s important to us to take a stand in these times when Mexico is being misinterpreted and show the world what great culture and sense of fashion we have. Everyone is looking for the best brands and the trendiest outfits, and that's where we come in. Mexico's fashion is growing exponentially and we are working hard to be a big part of it!”
How are huaraches best worn? How might a man make the most out of the shoe, I asked.
“As a fashionable Mexican man, I like to pair my huaraches with colorful and out of the box button-ups. I also love wearing them with socks. I've found Stance Socks to be the best to pair with. You can also fold up your jeans a bit to show more sock which is what I always do.
“Francisco and I like to wear our huaraches differently to show our customers different ways to wear them. He wears them with no socks, fully extended jeans and shirts with lots of patterns. We love it when our customers take ideas from us to implement their day-to-day fashion”.
The company’s name reflects more than Mexico’s traditions of feelings, dreams, and color. The name reflects the owners’ sense of spirituality and social awareness. Given the social conscientiousness of the business owners. I should not have been surprised when I called Oz the first time to ask if I could write about Espiritu's beautiful huaraches and found him attending a woman’s march with his girlfriend.
Their vision for the company takes care to maintain respect for those who actually make the shoes, acknowledgment unheard of from most retail brands whose underpaid workers have been known to leave hostage-like notes in the pockets of the clothing they make.
Espiritu's owners' vision goes like this. "We believe in the relevancy of indigenous societies to all of Humanity. By bringing the wisdom and ways of older cultures into our modern lives, we tend to the strong roots of Humanity's future.” (I would buy even an ugly shoe that talked to me like that).
If you are traveling, you will be doing a great deal of walking. You don’t have to sacrifice style for comfort, as you will see if you get these shoes.
No matter what your motivation, whether acknowledging and supporting indigenous workmanship or traveling in style, or you will love these shoes and the story they tell.
[no remuneration was received for this blog]
Related links: Mexico rise in the international fashion world, and how not to dress in Mexico
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About the author:
Kerry Baker is an expat and author of two books, The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online, a curation of the best free Spanish language tools on the web, organized by level, and "If Only I Had a Place," an insider's guide to renting wisely and luxuriously in Mexico.