You think it’s somewhere in Europe? Not!
Ever wonder where the famous brown loafers chosen by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as retirement shoes came from? If your guess is Italy where most of the shoes worn by the Papacy were handcrafted, you are wrong. They came from Mexico and were given to him by the local shoemakers of Leon, during the Pope’s visit in 2012. Leon is one of Mexico’s largest cities. It is located in the state of Guanajuato with a population of over two million people (2010 census) with leather working as its major industry. This wonderful city not only manufactures shoes of different kinds but also leather goods such as belts, bags, or leather jackets. How this city became a ‘Shoe Capital of the World’ with its rich cultural diversity is quite interesting.
The early history of the city of Leon
Founded in 1576 by the Spanish conquistadors under the leadership of Juan Bautista de Orozco and through the orders of Viceroy Martin Enriquez de Almanza, Leon was built to guard the place from the constant threat of the local Chichimecas tribe who resisted the Spanish invasion. These Spanish settlers established farming and cattle-raising which have grown and continued up to the present day. The surge and constant immigration of different nationals who chose to reside in this small colonial town.
From a basically agricultural town to a global shoe capital
The large growth in cattle-raising soon led the town people to manufacture leather goods and build tanneries. As early as 1645, shoemaking became a part of the local industry which has flourished and became strong up to the present as the local cobblers and shoemakers passed their craftsmanship from one generation to another.
Leon in the present
The present day city of Leon has about 3,400 shoe manufacturers, not to mention hundreds of leather goods and accessories industries, suppliers of textiles, insoles and other materials for shoemaking as well as tanneries. Much of these industries are located in the main leather district of Zona Piel. Almost 70 percent of manufactured shoes in Mexico are produced in Leon which has graced both the local and international markets and opens another door for this shoe industry to become world renowned.
International shoe brands such as Skechers, USA and Poppy Barley of Canada have been attracted to set up their operations in the city. The great production of quality leather shoes earned the city of Leon its title as ‘Shoe Capital of the World’. To commemorate the outstanding achievement of the city, Leon holds an international shoe fair (SAPICA) that show cases the versatility and ingenuity of shoe manufacturers all over the city where top of the line quality shoes are being sold and displayed. It is held twice a year during the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons. Another major event held each year is the gathering of shoe suppliers for ANPIC that features the raw materials required for shoe making.
It is no doubt that Leon has followed the trends in shoe fashion since turning itself into the world’s shoe capital. So the next time you buy a pair of shoe, think of Leon… you might be buying shoes made from this famous city!