Archives for the month of: April, 2014

Day after tomorrow we are shipping 4 pair of samples to a big company in Asia.They do us honor by considering using us to be their sole-source suppliers for handmade sandals.

Here is a preview of what we are sending them. They were made out of some of the new leathers that I purchased in Guadalajara a couple of days ago:

The Italianos:

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The Basketweave Clogs:

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The Caprias:

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And the Navarettos:

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These samples are very important. To us as a company, to the people of this region, and just as important to the country itself. For instance, imagine Mexico exporting sandals to Asia? That very thought is positively mind-boggling.

And just imagine in the doing how wonderful it would be if Mexico were able to get its mojo back? Namely by quit making crap like so many other countries and instead began reviving its colonial heritage as purveyors of quality leather goods. Imagine if Mexico were once again known for its artisanal products (other than just tequila and mezcal)?

And imagine Mexico becoming a dominant player in the slow-wear clothing movement. It’s possible. And why not? Mexico has been producing quality leathers for 400 years. And Mexico has the craftsmen, the old tools, and the people who still remember how to do things the old way.

Best of all, Mexico still has the heart.

 

If you ask me, leather is definitely worthy of an exclamation point. My exposure to leather prior to coming to Mexico to make sandals was like any other person’s, chiefly by exposure to consumer goods. Now I get to go to shops, warehouses, and (now) tanneries to shop and compare whole skins of leather. Here is what I bought yesterday –

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For the last 18 months or so I have been buying entire skins and have been learning through the local artisans how to gauge quality. Yesterday, I went with two of my guys to Guadalajara to actually visit a leather tanning plant and establish a relationship with the owner.

We have now cut out the middleman so to speak and the owner is going to furnish me with a much better quality of leather than I have been buying locally and finish my leather using only natural vegetable processes. This is much (much) better for the environment than the more popular (read, cheaper) chemical chromium tanning process. And the vegetable process produces a natural supple more luxurious feeling leather.

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I have decided to begin using a thicker leather (which comes from a small part of the back of the steer) for the planta; that’s the part of the sandal that touches the bottom of your foot. I hope in doing that I can eliminate the only part of my sandals that use synthetic material. I am talking about the midsole.

The new design – across all of our sandals – will be the planta double-lock stitched onto the recycled airplane tire and the 5mm heel differential would be made from the same recycled airplane tire as well.

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I learned yesterday that the thread we use is made from the fiber of the agave plant (tequila) so our sandals at some point soon – once we eliminate the synthetic midsole – will be the perfect combination of natural and recycled. The natural leather part is what you see and what touches your foot (and what keeps getting more beautiful over time) while the virtually indestructible recycled part is what keeps the environment happy by adding less to the landfill every year.

I also learned yesterday that leather that is overly peeling or flaky on the unsmooth (the ‘inside’) side is another indication of poor quality. This next photo – if you click on it to zoom in – shows the smooth side of the same skin contrasted with a very smooth, high-quality inside.

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I positively love leather. Just like I love old deer antlers and old, time polished bones and stuff like that. There is something so wonderful about any substance that is both utilitarian and also gets more beautiful over time. Think grandmother’s silver flatware collection, walnut tables, old oak barrels, wrought iron, fired bricks, hand-mortised stone joints, and other things like the old leather horse-harnesses that used to hang years ago in the barn.

PS – I am going to use those lovely colored skins of leather to make my first run at building women’s moccasins. Imagine a collection of soft, buttery colorful hand-stitched leather moccasins all built on the same indestructible platform as our sandals.  Ah, you say the aesthetics won’t work. Wrong. I’ve already proven it does work. Think. It’s only a thin black sole.

And isn’t building stuff just another good reason to get up in the morning?

 

A few weeks ago I changed the name of our sandal ‘Sahara Running Sandals’ to ‘Sahara Sport Sandals’. I did this for two reasons. One, I made a significant structural change to the sandal and two, the sandal is/was intended for a broader use than just running. The multiple straps that cover the top of the foot provide excellent torsional support that makes the sandal excellent for both trail and general walking comfort too.

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The structural change was very simple, yet hugely significant. I added a 5mm heel to toe differential. This is now the 15th version of this particular sandal model and I am convinced that this simple change corrected the single most contributing factor that led to the annoyingly long and painfully persistent Achilles Tendon injury that I acquired back in Dec. of 2012.

I ran for years in the Asic Gel Kayanos – which I am convinced caused the initial weakening of my feet through their unnecessary and heavy-handed use of orthotics; causing plantar fascitis. I then gave up running for 4-5 years thinking my situation was hopeless before switching to a more minimalist running shoe, wearing the NB Minimus Trails which over time cured the plantar fascitis.

With the experience that I gained  running in the minimalist style I got cocky when I started making my own sandals. And I thought that I knew much more about running and their related injuries than I really did. As I worked my way through the first 13 prototypes I ended up with a couple of different injuries although I am not ashamed to say that those injuries were mostly about working through the mid-sole design. Michoacan is after all the devil’s own playground. The valley trails and roads that I run on is a mostly an unchanging terrain of rocks and sharp stones.

But the biggest mistake that I made was in keeping the sandal flat. And I am convinced now, now that I am on the comeback trail from my Achilles Tendon and improperly mended fractured heel problem (from some cocktail hour of indeterminate past), that the flat sandal was causing my Achilles to hyper-extend with each foot lift off.

And all of this was made worse by running all the time. I was running 2-4 hours almost every single day. It was no wonder, now that I look back, why both calf muscles were spasming at the end of each run. And I wasn’t walking so much as hobbling during all my other waking hours. In short, I was in a lot of pain. And all the time.

So after a long convalescence, the obvious occurred to me. If I could walk comfortably – and for a long period of time – in all my other sandals – sandals that all share the same 5mm height differential – then maybe running in flats was where my Achilles problem was coming from.

I made the change 3-4 weeks ago and I am back to running again, without a problem. Granted, I am only running 45-60 minutes every other day, but problem free non-the-less.

Wiki says “The human foot and ankle is a strong and complex mechanical structure containing exactly 26 bones, 33 joints (20 of which are actively articulated), and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments.” So it stands to reason that anything from bad posture to the wrong foot wear can make walking or running an extremely painful proposition.

I know because I learned the hard way.

Sarah is running this year’s Boston Marathon and we are all holding our breath because she is running with a stress fracture in her right foot. How in the hell do you run with so much pain? I sure don’t know.

Will she finish? I don’t know. Can she run through the pain? Again, I don’t know.

You can track her via her bib number – 7289 – at http://raceday.baa.org/individual.html.

She went out with the first wave at 10 am EST and as of this moment she is at the 11 km point with roughly 31 km yet to go. She qualified for the Boston last year by running a 3:07 (coming in women’s 3rd place) and that is where she got her first stress fracture.

She still managed to run the following month 37 miles (in one day) with me in Minnesota in June, with that unhealed stress fracture. And pushing a baby jogging stroller with 40 kilos of stuff in it. I reminded her of this on the phone 2 days ago and she said, ‘Dad, we walked part of that.’ Whatever. The kid is far tougher than I am that’s for damn sure.

Steady on…

 

Which we don’t. But even if we did I wouldn’t know where to best effectively spend it anyway. (This is not my area of expertise).

However, putting my Don Draper hat on, this is what I know we need to identify with:

The slow-clothing movement  – which is built around 3 primary tenants: a rejection of mass-produced, the preference for long-wearing artisanal materials, and slowing the rate of consumption by purchasing better quality clothing less often.

Now the question is, how to do this? I don’t know – I am lost. Marketing/Sales people are typically lying assholes, who over commit the [true] creatives – the design staff.

PS – But I am still submitting my op-ed piece to various newspapers. My op-ed ties together my toxic clothing post, the post I did on the MIT running shoe study, a post on a NASA funded study on the current environmental unsustainability of the developed world’s consumption habits and the alternatively healthy slow-clothing movement.

(I am presently denied but not defeated).

 

I had a reoccurring thought while doing my dishes this evening. Why am I listening to (for instance) ‘Bridge of Sighs’? Or why am I re-reading Clavell’s ‘Shogun’?  (An awesome read by the way.)

Why (why) am I putting other people’s stuff into my head?

Octavio Paz – yes. But (most) others – no.

But mostly, I am too conscious of [not] creating my own content.

Do you feel that way? Or is that just me?

 

I was sitting at my work table this morning about 9:30 am when I noticed that it was gently shaking back and forth. I thought I was imaging things. I went for a run at 10 am and on the combi ride back in from the valley someone said that that there was a ‘tremblor’ that morning; a 7.2, the epicenter was in the state of Guerrero just south of where I live in Michoacan.

The earthquake's epicentre was in Guerrero state, northwest of the Pacific resort town of Acapulco, where many Mexicans are currently spending the Easter long weekend.

Earthquakes have always been a huge surprise to me. I usually never know at the time when one is happening. I always think my mind is playing tricks. I had felt earthquakes before in California and a couple of other places. In fact I was only 125 miles away when the big one hit San Francisco in ’89. That one hit a few minutes after 5 pm during the work commute. A buddy of mine was in denial when his BMW started bucking around and he didn’t figure out what was going on until he saw a stop sign start whipping back and forth. His cousin was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at that exact same moment and he said that the experience was so frightening he about dirtied his drawers.

I felt a small (but very close-by) 5.Something in North Carolina a few years back which tried to shake me out of bed in the middle of the night. Once again, I put it off as my imagination and didn’t learn until the next morning that it was an actual earthquake.

But I remember two that I knew unmistakeably at the time were in fact earthquakes. One was in the San Francisco Bay Area and the other one was in Tokyo. Earthquakes are like mudslides inasmuch as there you are one minute- everything is fine – and then the next minute you watch something like the whole half of a mountain come sliding down (Cajamarca, Peru ’10).

Other natural disasters are more palatable. My one and only hurricane experience was brief as we ended up leaving at the last moment. It was in Corpus Christi in the ’80s. I remember the sky turning this positively chilling color of green. Don’t get me wrong, the color was compelling beautiful. But because you knew what lay on the other side of it, well it’s a color I will always associate with horror. Imagine God on a very (very) bad day. No, no that’s not right.  Maybe it was that the color evoked the complete absence of God. That’s probably a better way to put it.

And I remember 2 tornadoes – again in S. Texas – in fact we saw one form up in the western sky. I remember that day well. It was January and my buddy, Kerry and I were coming back from wind-surfing at his place on Lake Corpus Christi. The wind was screaming and the water was cold. We were in wetsuits and kept getting blown over in the turns. Listening to the radio on the way back in it said that the wind was gusting to 42 knots; way too much for the size of our sails that day. It was late afternoon and we were just hitting the southern part of town when we saw off to the west some clouds starting to circle up and twist together. It was so mesmerizing that we pulled off the road to watch. We expected the funnel cloud to drop down onto the Valero Refinery and turn the entire city into a burning inferno but thankfully nothing of the sort happened.

Paraphrasing an old half remembered Stewart Brand quote where he said something like ‘Nature is not your friend…nature can kill you.’

Yup.

PS – Oh, and CBCNews reported today’s “quake occurred along a section of the Pacific Coast known as the Guerrero Seismic Gap, a 200-kilometre section where tectonic plates meet and have been locked, meaning huge amounts of energy are being stored up with potentially devastating effects, said USGS seismologist Gavin Hayes. The last large quake that occurred along the section was a magnitude-7.6 temblor in 1911, Hayes said.

He said scientists will be watching the area more intensely because moderate quakes such as Friday’s can destabilize the surrounding sections of seismic plate and increase the chance of a more powerful temblor.

“This is really strong,” said Gabriel Alejandro Hernandez Chavez, 45, an apartment building guard in central Mexico City. “And I’m accustomed to earthquakes.”

The magnitude-8.1 quake in 1985 that killed at least 6,000 people and destroyed many buildings in Mexico City was centred 400 kilometres away on the Pacific Coast.”

Great. Perfectly great. Water shortages. Beheadings. Now earthquakes. What’s next?

Today has been a glorious day. It started out on the iffy side but my run out in the valley mid-morning quickly changed my point of view. What is it that makes running in just shorts and a pair of sandals so positively liberating? I don’t know, but somehow to run half-naked through the totally unpopulated agriculture valley that lies east of town is something that makes my heart positively sing with happiness.

Of the four people that I saw on my run, one was a cowboy who was managing the grazing aspects of at least 50 head of cattle. He rode his horse across the waist deep canal to say hello and introduce me to his horse. He was the real deal. One tough son of a bitch. And I got to pet his stallion. (Side story: Have you ever watched a stallion piss? It redefines the concept of intimidating. It’s like watching a high pressure fire hose discharge. I suspect that there is a lesson there. Through the act, the horse is reminding the cowboy just who the real heavyweight is.)

I got up before sunrise and made myself a cup of coffee using the same cheap old plastic Melitta coffee drip. The coffee beans I buy are 1 part dark roast (Veracruz) mixed with 2 parts medium roast (Chiapas) and ground to espresso fine. It adds up to an extremely fine cup of coffee. There are better beans and as good or better cups of coffee in other places in the world; Indonesia, Jamaica, and Vienna come to mind. But I am in Mexico and I enjoy these local beans brewed the simple way, made sufficiently strong and drunk black. And for me that’s a good cup of coffee. It reminds me of being asked from time to time which country has the most beautiful women and the answers are simple. First, the country with the most beautiful women is just where ever I happen to be at that moment. And if pressed, the other (real) answer is Brazil.

Black coffee, a quiet house, and a keyboard. Heaven on earth. I am back working seriously on my second novel. 50,000 words and counting. It will end up at about 65-70,000 words. But it’s a variation of the old 80/20 rule at work. The last 20% of the work will take 80% of the real effort. As I sit here at my work table it is a given that running, cocktails/meal-planning, and writing are my three amigos. Sandal-making is a very important part of my life here in Mexico too but the first three are my pole-stars.

And on my run today I got to thinking [again] about poverty. And I recollected my first trip to Mexico City in ’88; the year that my daughter was conceived. I needed a break. My ex was pregnant and couldn’t travel so I concocted a mini-break where I drove from Corpus Christi to Laredo. Walked across the border and got on a train for the 700 mile/24 hour trip to Mexico City. The last 3-4 hours was early morning rolling through the unending slums of the approach into central Mexico City. The poverty as seen through the grimy window of my train car was apocalyptic. People living out of over turned rail cars. Indiscriminate trash fires burning everywhere. Single 40 watt light bulbs illuminating landscapes straight from the nightmares of Bosch. Skinny, naked kids playing in the filth. My mind recoiled in horror.

As the sun was rising I opened my cabin door to check on the availability of breakfast. At the same time a woman was emerging from another cabin presumably to do the same thing. In all my naivete I blurted something to the effect ‘How can so many people manage being so poor’?

She looked at me with a mixture of amusement, scorn and pity and said, ‘They have their fiestas. Their families. The church.’ And before walking away not wanting to waste anymore breath on this gringo fool said, ‘They don’t know they are poor.’

Mexico City has changed a lot in the last 25 years and those slums are long gone. But what that woman said to me has stayed and I’ll probably remember the truth of her words until the day I die.

I’ve been in Mexico something like 20 months now. And by N. American standards most of the people that live around me are poor. Obviously not dirt poor like those people I saw all those years ago but still poor. Poor in the sense that they don’t take vacations, own automobiles, and in some cases possess only the bare necessities.

But [again] what is poverty? These neighbors, these simple Mexican people are happy. Truly happy. You put my extended family in the same house for a simple Thanksgiving dinner and it’s only a matter of hours before someone gets cross or some unpleasantness happens. Yet these people somehow manage to work side by side for years on end, 6-7 days per week, 10-12 hours a day and chat away happily with each other like they’ve only just met. I want someone to explain that to me.

These people by far and away are my preferable companions. I eat at Maria’s 3-4 times a week in the Mercado. Her mother at the age of 83 still works. In the Mercado. Selling newspapers. I hope that I can spend the next 20 years here. Because there are so many things that I still do not understand.

Some poor people have much (much) better front porch views than you. Witness this view from the barrio at the very top of the city of La Paz:

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Contrast this with LA where the rich live up above in the hills.

FYI – In the background is the sacred snow covered mountain of Illimani. It sits at 21,200 ft. which is only 7,000 ft. above this particular barrio. La Paz has the distinction of being the highest capital city in the world sitting at 13000-14000 ft. elevation.

It quite literally takes your breath away.

 

Whether you were paying attention or not, the future began circa 1990. It began with the personal computer revolution and the internet boom; but you already knew that. But what you don’t know – unless you were really paying attention – is that education changed there as well, and with it so did the future.

I had this minor epiphany several years ago but the more complete narrative of this future didn’t begin to coalesce until today on my run when my singular intellectual boil finally burst and the pain and pressure exploded into a huge gouty virtual puddle of blood and green and yellow colored pus. The infection started 2 weeks ago when I began reading Tyler Cowen’s soul-suckingly useless anti-opus ‘Average is Over’. But I am not here talk about that book (for fear that the infection might return).

What all economists these days mostly can agree upon (which isn’t much) is that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing.

The haves consists of two groups of people. The wealthier group of the two owns the means of production. This means that they own the shit that makes the shit that you buy. The second group of haves are the people that create the tools that makes the shit that you buy. It doesn’t matter if we are taking about software, hardware, medicine, or genes. I am talking about the scientists and engineers that research, design, and build the engines of creation.

The future have-nots also consists of two groups of people. The first group are those that don’t care about being a have not and feel very comfortable sucking at the fat tit of entitlement. And the other group are those people who are going to land there but are not going to want to be there. Because, as they will eventually discover, that fighting over that very skinny ten dollar an hour future – with the rest of the 90% of the world’s population – is majorly going to suck.

So where does education fit into this? To begin with the internet boom and the pc revolution created such a demand for IT workers that there were simply too few college graduates with the requisite skills to feed the demand so the IT industry solved the problem by creating certifications.

We are primarily talking about Microsoft, Novell, and Cisco Systems. And those certifications ended up working out very well for them. First, they all created multi-billion dollar businesses within their businesses. Education is after all big business. Books, classes, and the tests all cost big dough. And multiplied tens of thousands of times over and over adds up to real dough. Also in the doing they got to further privatize education which meant that they got to train the workers their way, on their equipment; creating as it turned out, intentionally or not, a further demand for their product as that training and those skills are not portable across different systems.

So how much education do people that operate these newly emerging intelligent machines really need any way? As it turns out, not very much. These large multi-national corporations diversified the IT job pool by creating a very wide swath of certifications. The fact that certain intangibles like job satisfaction disappeared along the way was beside the point. Octavio Paz pointed out years ago that in an industrialized (or post-industrialized) society that the modern worker becomes reduced to ‘an element in the work process.’

The certificates, like the training, are all equipment specific and as such narrowly specialized. There are/were certificates for network (Cisco or Novell) and systems (Cisco/Microsoft) security, storage solutions (Dell) , project management, operations (again both systems and network), database design and operation (Oracle), systems architecture (Cisco/Microsoft), and network architecture (Cisco or Novell). There are many more, but you get the idea. An ex-Intel colleague once wisely noted that all those smart machines were ‘just a box’ with a user interface. And how difficult could that be?

But let’s say that you as a future worker don’t want work in IT and want to go to university and get an actual 4 year degree and do something different. My advice is to choose wisely. University undergraduates pay in the neighborhood of $200 – $400/credit hour.
And here’s what happens if you don’t choose wisely. One, if your parents pay the bill then you emerge 4 years later with a perfectly useless degree that allows you to merely compete with others like yourself essentially for that same $10/hour future. Or two, you financed some or all of your education to find yourself in the same place as number One, but in debt. And at earning 10 bucks an hour, that debt is going to keep you at the poverty line for a long, long time; maybe the rest of your life.

Ahh, and there are two slowly emerging permutations to what I just said. First, there is the looming educational finance credit bubble ($1T and counting) that could burst at any moment and further hasten the future wherein the universities themselves are cutting costs by offering more in the way of standardized online class offerings. I predict that in the not too distant future that many of these online educations will be offered at a major discount and that the student upon graduating will receive a certificate and not a degree.

So unless you inherit owning the means of production then your future is predictably quite simple:

• Service industry jobs. Enough said.

• Getting a certificate to learn how to operate an intelligent machine. Boring, narrow, competitive, and just plain bad.

• Getting a useless university degree. Expensively bad.

• Better. Becoming really, really good at something to where you are better at doing it than anyone else. Cabinetmaker, hair-stylist, fabric maker. A DIY of the first order. A doer. A maker.

• Best. Getting a really good university education that gives you the training to build tomorrow’s tools. This means at least a Master’s degree. Preferably a PhD. Why is this best? Because you are at the top of the food chain. Your Clausewitz battlefield approach to your education will position you to be in a very small minority that also had a very expensive buy-in proposition thereby generating an almost irreducible exclusivity.

Update 6/18/2014 – If you don’t believe that multi-national companies and certificates (politely termed ‘NanoDegrees) are not being further considered as a way to  bridge the educational gap (read, provide industry with inexpensively trained workers) by stepping deeper into the traditional educational model then please read today’s NY Time’s article entitled ‘A Smart Way to Skip College in Pursuit of a Job‘.