Shoes: From Leon to Olympia … Estileon Shoes
When Armando Estrada set his sights on exporting his hand-crafted shoes to the United States, he encountered one huge obstacle. Big Box American shoe retailers make their purchases in lots of 30,000, 50,000, even 100,000 pairs at a time. Armando’s 4-person workshop could only produce 17 pairs of shoes per day.
In Leon, Mexico where Armando’s workshop is located, shoe making is a craft. The city is known as Mexico’s Shoe Making Capital with over 3,000 shoe-making enterprises.
Many businesses are small, like Armando’s, and produce their shoes by hand. More shoes are produced in Leon than any other city in the Spanish speaking world.
Small production runs and higher labor costs have limited the availability of Leon’s shoes in the United States. Fashion labels that market shoes from Leon often suggest they are made in Europe, usually Italy. As a result, Americans have little knowledge of Leon or its finely crafted shoes.
Armando started out designing and producing his shoes in El Salvador. He frequently visited Leon to purchase leather and other supplies; he also attended Leon’s famous shoemaking school, CIATEC. Two years ago he made the decision to relocate his workshop from El Salvador to Leon.
Armando’s relationship to Olympia began over 20 years ago. After El Salvador’s Civil War ended, his family opened their home to election observers who monitored El Salvador’s first post-war elections.
Two observers, long time Olympia residents John Regan and Anne Fischel, formed a relationship with Armando’s family that continues to this day. When Armando moved to Leon, they visited him there and began to learn about Leon’s traditions of artisanal and small-scale shoe-making. Recently they set up the ESTILEON shoe store in Olympia’s Capital Mall to bring Armando’s shoes, and those of other small Leon shoemakers, to the U.S. for the first time.
The ESTILEON shoe store (“Styles from Leon”) introduces quality, casual footwear made in Mexico to our local Olympia market. For a half dozen Mexican shoe producers it is their first opportunity to explore the American market in the hope of building a relationship with U.S. consumers.
ESTILEON offers comfortable, stylish shoes for men and women. The store features Armando’s IXOTI line. Ixoti shoes are 100% leather except for their non-slip sports soles. The store offers a selection of quality shoes by five other Leon shoemakers–Lobo Solo, GACI, BarCassi, Clinton and Pazstor–that feature fine leather materials, hand-crafted details and affordable prices.
ESTILEON also offers a selection of leather handbags and wallets by several talented Leon designers.
Juan Cu Coc (shown at right) crossed the border, fleeing gang violence. When he reached the U.S. he was detained for 11 months in Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center.
Even while he was detained, Juan worked to hone his artistic skills making small sculptures from discarded paper and plastic.
When his asylum claim was rejected, friends in Olympia directed Juan to the ESTILEON workshop in Leon. Now Juan owns his own business, making handbags in leather and textile. You can find them displayed in the ESTILEON store at Olympia’s Capital Mall.