I went over to Sergio’s factory to see how he was doing on the sandal project that he had accepted from me a week ago last Friday. I was wearing the new braided pair of my model ‘Colombianos’ that Sebastian (another factory owner) had made for me.

Sergio was all smiles as he welcomed me. He got me to take off my right sandal then he took it around to show a couple of people in his factory. He asked  me a couple of questions about it, pointed  out a couple of flaws (stitching was showing through on the bottom of the sole, the toe thong was too thick). All of this was a general ruse to distract me from the fact that he hadn’t done shit on my project.

He decided we needed to go talk to his designer but of course he didn’t bother to explain why; we just hopped on  his scooter and roared off. He took a left out of his compound, 2 blocks then a right, 4 more blocks then a left. We pulled up in front of a bare concrete building. The dirty office was empty so Sergio stepped into the gloom of the back and shouted up the stairs. After a couple of minutes a gimp legged man limped down the stairs and emerged  from the dark corridor. Sergio didn’t introduce me but instead motioned me to take a seat in a dirty while plastic chair; which I am discovering is office standard for the shoe business. I was asked again to take off my right sandal. The other man accepted it from Sergio and gave it the benefit of his professional eye. He leaned over and fished  through a stack of artificial green feet before selecting the appropriate sized horma. He jammed the dirty green foot into my new sandal and I winced as he stretched the back strap up over the dummy heel.

He grabbed a chewed up 29 cent Bic ballpoint pen and began tracing the strap configuration onto the green foot. This wasn’t going to be text book style design study but a more low-tech approach to what amounted to pirating my sandal design. I silently acquiesced to this new robbery much as I did to Sebastian overcharging me to develop that  specific design from what I effectively borrowed from the Colombian craftsman who made the original. And so I reminded myself that there was some reciprocity at work here. Sebastian also overcharged me for producing a trial run of 16 pairs. This design exchange between factories was really nothing more than an insurance policy against future overcharging; in effect giving me a second supplier. I asked Sergio if they are going to make me a pair and give me a price. When he said yes I told him that I wanted them made with the same leather, in the same color with 1 cuna, 1 guardafungo, and all stitched to airplane tire; in other words, igualamente.

Sergio got up to leave and asked me if I want to stay and watch the design. I said yes. I needed to stay as I had to see how the black ink traced lines on the foot got effected into a reproducible translation of my sandal.

We both ignored the scooter as it started up. The man grabbed a piece of very thin light colored leather and then with a long scalpel like blade took a few educated passes at the leather using his finger as the blade’s guide. What emerged was  a smaller piece with a contour arc at one end. He dipped his right index finger into a jar of what looks like rubber cement and with a practiced movement thinly troweled  it onto the leather.

He then placed the leather evenly glue side down onto the green foot before smoothing it down tightly over it. He then cut away the piece for the thong between the big toe and then next removed the unwanted leather. He motioned for me to raise my foot.

He studied the sandal on my foot for a second then made a tentative cut exposing some of the traced line. He alternately lifted the leather for a peek before making a surgical pass with the blade until all that remained was the outline for my sandal. This escala, or template, was then removed from the green horma and laid over the top of a piece of thin white cardboard like paper where he then made an outline trace of it. He brought the knife to bear on the trace and again using his finger as the blades guide he skillfully removed all of the excess paper. During this process he used a pair of calipers with sharp pointed ends to check and measure thereby providing uniformity and quality to his hand tracing and blade work.

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The sandal bottom was then traced and the toe thong piece position was measured and added to the trace along with the side strap penetrations.

In the end 5 separate pattern pieces called moldes were created.

All 5 moldes were labeled with a number indicating the style. Sergio asked me what I called it and I told him the Colombiano. A dull ache began to spread between my eyes as I realized the triple cross. I knew that this factory was going to attempt to market my sandal and that it would soon end up in a catalog somewhere with that name.

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