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?

 

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