By putting one colorful sandal-clad foot after the other, a young artisan from Guerrero is reviving the popularity of a traditional part of his indigenous culture and even exporting it to the world.
Alexis Jiménez López, a 27-year-old Amuzgo man from the town of Xochistlahuaca in the state’s Costa Chica region, makes huaraches, or sandals.
But while his design is based on traditional cross-strap huaraches — a sandal that dates back to pre-Columbian times — Jiménez decided to cover the straps on the upper part of the footwear with colorful woven fabrics, a feature that immediately set them apart and caught many people’s eyes.
Bright and colorful textiles — woven on a telar de cintura or backstrap loom — are one of the greatest sources of pride for the Amuzgo people, an indigenous group that lives mainly in a region along the Guerrero-Oaxaca border.
But before Jiménez, nobody had ever combined that element of indigenous dress with the traditional footwear.
His idea to incorporate the colorful fabrics in the huaraches has not only reinvigorated the popularity of the footwear among young Mexicans but also attracted the attention of people from as far away as Germany, the United States, Chile and Colombia, all of whom have ordered and received their very own Guerrero-made sandals.
The success the business is experiencing today, however, did not come easily but is the result of a lot of hard work and perseverance.
To make his vision a reality, Jiménez needed to convince a variety of people with skills in several different trades to come on board.
Jiménez told the newspaper El Universal that women weavers from his home town are used to working as a collective and patiently waiting for a project to mature before any profits begin to flow.
Leather workers, on the other hand, are not.
So while it was relatively easily for Jiménez to find weavers who agreed to supply him with the colorful fabric he needed for the distinctive part of his design, it took him more than a month to convince just one leather worker to start making the straps over which the fabrics are laid.
Apart from wanting to see profits in the short term, the leather workers were resistant because they had never made huaraches that featured any fabric before, let alone the dazzling designs Jiménez was proposing.
But when he finally managed to get his first batch of huaraches completed, they sold like hotcakes at a sales expo in Veracruz.
After the initial success, Jiménez had no trouble selling all the huaraches he could make to shop owners in the region.
But after becoming aware that the sandals were being sold for up to 1,200 pesos (US $65) a pair — an unaffordable price for most of the region’s residents — he decided to stop selling to retailers and instead ship to clients directly.
“The people who are getting rich in Ometepec [a regional hub] are not the shopkeepers [and] not the leather workers, it’s the people who charge the rents,” Jiménez said.
Now, Jiménez almost exclusively makes only custom-made huaraches, with the cost varying depending on the specifications that clients ask for.
Apart from the weavers and leatherworkers, Jiménez heads a team — called La amuzga de Xochistlahuacathat — that also includes designers, tanners and seamstresses.
All the huaraches are made by hand and the profits are shared equally among the workers who contribute to the final product.
“We owe a lot to our people, because not only did they pass on their traditions to us but without those people who have strived to ensure that these trades aren’t lost, we wouldn’t be doing this work,” Jiménez said.
“With the huaraches, we want to revitalize our tradition and live it with a lot of pride.”
The products can be viewed and purchased through the organization’s Facebook page.
Source: El Universal (sp)