Most people might not know of this fact, but the city of Leon in Guanajuato, Mexico is considered the global shoe capital. Those who’re interested in shoes for personal use or business purposes would do well to learn more about this part of the world. This is why we’ve discussed some of its details below:
Not in Europe!
Ever wonder where the famous brown loafers chosen by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as his retirement shoes came from? Italy is where most of the shoes worn by the Papacy were handcrafted, so many people will probably come up with this guess. However, they would be wrong! Those loafers 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’s located in the state of Guanajuato with a population of over two million people (2010 census). Leatherworking is its major industry, although it’s also known for several other goods and services. This wonderful city not only manufactures shoes of different kinds but also leather goods such as belts, bags, or leather jackets. The history of how this city became the ‘Shoe Capital of the World’ with a rich cultural diversity is quite interesting.
Early History of the City of Leon
Founded in 1576 by the Spanish conquistadors, Leon was built under the leadership of Juan Bautista de Orozco and through the orders of Viceroy Martin Enriquez de Almanza. The original purpose of the city was to guard the general area against the constant threat of the local Chichimecas tribe. These were a native tribe whose people resisted the Spanish invasion. Soon, the Spanish settlers established farming and cattle-raising in the city of Leon. Both of these industries have grown and continued up to the present day. There was also the surge and constant immigration of different nationals who chose to reside in this small colonial town. This factor only contributed to the flow of goods in and out of Leon, hence contributing to the growth of its economy.
From an Agricultural Town to a Global Shoe Capital
There are economies where cattle-raising and farming might remain just that, but the people of Leon took their skills a step further. 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. It then flourished and became stronger with each passing generation right up to the present. The local cobblers and shoemakers passed their craftsmanship from one generation to another. Thus, each generation learned old skills and developed them to a new level. Technological advancements probably played a large role in this development as well.
A Way of Life
According to reliable sources, the city of Leon looks upon leatherwork as part of their everyday lives. Cobblers and shoemakers pass on their knowledge to their apprentices and offspring, thereby creating a community with a family history of leatherwork.
What’s more, the large shoemaking industry in Leon has attracted several Spanish, Argentinean, and Italian immigrants. Since they also come from areas that are famous for their leatherwork, they have a lot to contribute. Hence, the quality and varieties of shoes you can find in Leon are unmatchable in any other part of the world.
Now that the city of Leon is industrialized, one can also find a huge variety of shoe stores there. These also include any al all services related to shoes, such as repairing, embellishments, customization, and more.
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. Also present here are suppliers of textiles, insoles and other materials for shoemaking as well as tanneries. Most 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.
With the world fast becoming a global market thanks to online shopping, Leon has yet another way to become renowned for its footwear products all over the world. Even international shoe brands such as Skechers, USA and Poppy Barley of Canada have set up operation in the city.
The International Shoe Fair
Its excellent production of quality leather shoes earned the city of Leon its title as ‘Shoe Capital of the World’. To commemorate this outstanding achievement of the city, Leon holds an international shoe fair (SAPICA). This showcases the versatility and ingenuity of shoe manufacturers all over the city, where top-of-the-line quality shoes are displayed and sold.
This international fair 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. This features the raw materials required for shoemaking.
The Leather Zone
Most of the shoemaking industry, the tanneries, leather goods, and accessories can be found in the leather zone of Leon. This is also known as Zona Piel, which is the central leather district of the area. You can find this in the Centro district. When you get there, you’ll be able to view all sorts of leather shoes, belts, purses, wallets, boots, vests, coats, jackets, etc. The prices are also relatively low for someone who’s coming from a first-world country, so this place is a haven for tourists.
Overall, the leather zone provides you with a great shopping experience, with several continuous blocks of booths, stalls, stands, and shops with leather goods. You can even find some bargains with the hawkers and street vendors. The quality might vary from one vendor to another, so you might want to educate yourself on assessing the goods. There are several more shops, hotels, malls, and restaurants near Zona Piel, so you can also get your lodgings at a convenient distance.
There’s no doubt that Leon has followed the trends in shoe fashion since turning itself into the shoe capital of the world. So the next time you buy a pair of shoe, think of Leon… you might be buying shoes made from this famous city!