December 16, 2011

That Perfect Gift: Spanish Footwear

So for this gift idea I had to go straight to the expert: my mother-in-law. She is an avid shoe-shopper, and shoes ("zapatos"; or as an industry, "calzado") are an important local industry in Spain. Put more succinctly, Spain is a shoe-making country. While Italy often gets all the attention internationally, I think Spain can match Italy for number of shoe manufacturers and quality brands. (Here I'm not speaking as an economist… I don't know the actual stats, but on a crude, utterly biased impression alone, I sure I'm right about this.) And, at least up until a few years ago, before the euro-dollar exchange rate shifted dramatically, quality shoes in Spain were seriously cheaper than in the States. (Spanish brands still are cheaper here.) 

So, while I confess I am not much of a shoe shopper, much less for women's shoes, even a shoe-style-challenged chap like me recognizes that shoes in Spain are excellent, stylish, comfortable, and affordable, a winning combination.

A quick scan of the website for the "Federación de Industrias del Calzado Español" (FICE) gives you a sense of the national presence of Spanish shoemakers. The major industrial areas for footwear production in Spain are the following: Elche, Elda, Villena, all in Alicante, and Vall d’Uixó in Castellón (Community of Valencia)… indeed, in 2010 the Comunidad Valenciana region was home to about 64% of all shoe manufacturers ("fabricantes")… followed by these other regions in descending order... Almansa and Fuensalida (Castile-La Mancha), Arnedo (La Rioja), Mallorca and Menorca (Balearic Islands); Illueca (Aragon) and Valverde del Camino (Andalusia). According to export stats from FICE, Spain predominantly exports to France and then other EU countries, though it also exports to the US and Japan.

• The brands:
A perusal of Spanish brands starts to give you an idea of the range of styles and high quality of shoes from Spain, but above all, of the incredible number of companies out there. Since this list is going to get pretty long, I'm keeping things succinct by annotating in parenthesis brand highlights (e.g. gender focus, locale of home base). You quickly see what I was saying about a serious concentration in Alicante, and also a strong showing on the Balearic Islands... both regions with a long history in shoe production.

Fashionist Carrie Bradshaw
wearing some "Manolos"
We can start with high fashion. Easily the most famous shoe designer to come out of Spain is Manolo Blahnik (women's). Carrie Bradshaw, in Sex in the City, made his shoes famous through her shopping obsession with them. This shoe designer was born on the Canary Islands (his mother is Spanish), but eventually moved away, and today the brand is based in the U.S. So once Spanish, but now more international. Still, it is probably not an accident that he came out of Spain. There are plenty of other established fashionable Spanish shoe brands.While they do not quite reach the same level of acclaim (or sticker shock), here is a list of some other higher-end shoe labels: Paco Gil (women's, Elda in Alicante), Brenda Zaro (women's), Bay shoes (men's, Mallorca), Pons Quintana (women's, Menorca), Carmen Poveda (women's, Alicante), Farrutx (Inca in Mallorca), Martinelli, Pedro Miralles (women's, Elche in Alicante)... and I'm sure I'm missing some others.

Something tells me I can't afford these Manolo pumps, but they sure are pretty.

At the mid range (i.e. where us mortals deign to shop) probably the most visible and recognized Spanish brand is Camper (from Mallorca). As is the case for many of these Spanish brands, Camper was the result of a younger generation shoemaker, Fluxá, from a long line of shoemakers, who decided to branch of from the family business and begin to build a national and then international brand. Another upscale shoe label, Lottusse (men's, Mallorca), is also from Fluxá family.

But Camper is just the tip of the iceberg, with many other Spanish brands who are starting to sport an "Hecho en España" (Made in Spain) label showing pride in the country's impressive industry. So here the list gets pretty long, though I (or really my mother-in-law) can vouch for most of these labels: Pikolinos, Panama Jack, Zinda (women's, Elche), Hispanitas (Petrer in Alicante), Pielsa (men's), Callaghan (part of the Grupo Hergar, in Arnedo, self-proclaimed "Ciudad del calzado"), Lodi (women's, Elda), Looky (women's, Menorca), Vulladi (home-wear and children's, Elche), Patricia Miller (women's)... And there are a few brands that I believe fit in here, but don't know from personal experience (again, i.e. from my mom-in-law): Magrit (women's, Elda), Amante (women's, Elda), Ángel Infantes (men's, Albacete in Castilla-La Mancha).

Then there are the slightly more affordable shoes priced in the mid to low range. In this group Wonders is the most recognizable. (I noticed the other day that the soles of my wife's Wonders shoes say: "Made with Love in Spain". Excellent!) But here there are also some newer, colorful brands, including 24 horas (Elche), Snipe (which makes natural, ecological shoes; based in Valencia!), La Cadena (Munilla in La Rioja), Valverde del Camino, Tejus (Alicante), Segarra (boots, Valle de Uxó in Castellón), Victoria (youth... in particular "bambas" or "zapatillas", Logroño)... and probably many more as well.


And this is _not_ an exhaustive comprehensive list of all the Spanish brands there are for shoes.

• The local styles
In addition to these many brands, there are a few styles of footwear that evolved from local Spanish shoe traditions.

Perhaps the most established and increasingly exported Spanish style of footwear are "menorquinas" sandals, or "abarca de Menorca". These simple, modest sandals are based on the humble, functional shoes that farmers and fieldworkers traditionally wore on the island. Today you can find them in all different colors and designs, from simple to incredibly elegant and expensive, but the base of their popularity is as a typical tourist purchase when you visit the islands. Though you'll notice that everyone, tourists and locals alike, wear them on the islands in the summer. When we visited Menorca this summer, we bought ourselves a pair of Ria menorquinas. Ria is probably the most famous of brands on the island. And remember how I said that Menorca is one of several major footwear producing regions? Well, there are hundreds of Minorcan shoe brands each with their own line of sandals in this niche market.



Another traditional Spanish shoe, "espardenyas" (which comes from the catalán word, "esparto," a kind of textile made of grass) is from the Catalán region. This local style comes from the very old style of shoes, "alpargatas", woven sandals, the origins of which probably go back to the ancient Egyptians, but whose introduction to Europe can be traced back to the medieval period in Spain and France. (Though similar shoes are also found in the Americas during the same period). For this style of shoe, one of the better known manufacturers is Castañer—yes, another not-yet-mentioned Spanish brand!—who specialize in more modern versions of this classic shoe.


• The Shops (in Valencia):
So given all these great brands and local styles it goes without saying that Spain is a great place to go shoe-shopping. But where to do it? Here I'm afraid I'm limited by my local(ized) knowledge, or more accurately that of my wife and mother-in-law. I can only recommend specific shoe shops ("zapaterías") in Valencia, but these three are tops: Zapa [C/ Don Juan de Austria 34, 46002 Valencia; t: 96 394 17 83], Aviñó [Paseo Ruzafa, 4, 46002 Valencia], and Yacaré [has three locations, but we normally shop at: C/ Colón 42, 46004 Valencia, t: 96 351 06 20].

But there are hundreds of local shoe shops in every major Spanish city. I'm sure if you go to any major shopping area you'll find some good ones, and then you just have to keep your eyes out for these tried and tested brands.

Again, I'm really not a shoe person. But after living here for many years, and more so after having investigated this story, even I have come to acknowledge that these Spanish shoe producers have elevated a craft to the level of an art. And they have done so with a certain practicality and modesty or lack of pretension that deserves some recognition. They are at the forefront of a culture of style and creative imaging, which embraces tradition (without clinging to it) rather than losing touch with it. So you really can't go wrong shoe shopping in Spain.

...

Finally, an observation on at least one noteworthy cross-cultural footwear difference between the States and Spain. If you're living in Spain, and especially if you're living with Spaniards, you'll want to get some footwear to wear around the house. I've discovered that most (if not all) Spaniards feel a really strong impetus to _never go barefoot at home_. While it is not overtly due to any concern with cleanliness—floors could be clean enough to eat off as far as they could care—I would say that Spaniards find the idea of somebody walking around the home without sandals (sandalias) or flip flops (chanclas) to be unhygienic and therefore a bit repulsive. (Note: wearing socks is not sufficient; it needs to be something that qualifies as footwear.) So I suppose they land on the opposite end of the spectrum from Americans, many of whom habitually go around their homes barefoot, and certainly Buddhists and some Asians who would ask you to remove your footwear before entering the house. So pack a pair of slippers or flip-flops when you visit them. (Or better yet, go shoe shopping once you get here! Menorquinas, anyone?)

13 comments:

Chic Soufflé said...

Great review of the Spanish long-standing shoe-making tradition. I would add that, whenever I go shoe shopping in the US, I find myself looking at shoes and discover, surprise, that they're made in Spain! Turns out a lot of the best shoes in the US are actually made in Spain or Italy.

An Expat in Spain said...

Hi Chic Soufflé! Great to have you comment here, and on this entry, since I very much enjoy your blog. It is really surprising how little Americans are aware that Spain is a major shoe producer, given how many 'Made in Spain' shoes circulate in the U.S. My hope is that this entry will help raise the industry's profile there (and provide some further competition with Italy).

Anonymous said...

As a long term buyer of shoes from Spain, mallorca and menorca, I was very disappointed not to recieve a reply from my favourite shoe manufacturer in Spain - Bran's. I assumed a year or so ago that since their website has not been updated for 18 months or so that they're dead and gone. I am gutted - any help to find a supplier please contact newbridgecadmans@aol.com. I emailed them a year ago : (

An Expat in Spain said...

Have you tried emailing [info@bransjarque.com]? I hope they haven't been swallowed up by this economic and banking turmoil. A lot of midsize companies are struggling, what with the difficulties in getting loans. I wish you luck in locating them!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

My absoutely favourite shoes from your area are Chie Mihara. This Brazilian & Japanese designer has a factory shop in Elda.
For years I have only bought Spanish shoes. Lodi, Chie Mihara & Nordika slippers. The quality is fabulous.

Great post.

Molly
www.piccavey.com

An Expat in Spain said...

Hi Molly! Thanks for adding your favorite shoe brands to the list here. The truth is this is a subject I know little about, but was able to hit up some experts on the topic. If Spaniards want to sell "la marca España", solid quality shoes are definitely a good starting place.

Alicante shoe addict said...

Nice article, I'm from Alicante and I strongly recommend to go to Elche, they are practically leading European exports for shoes.

On the other hand I think there are a couple of brands worth to mention not appearing in your complete article:

Pura López
Fluxa
Sabrinas

Regards!

Brigita Aš said...

Didn't know someone could be so detailed on applications and details of podiatry shoes. Much respect from fellow online foot experts. wholesale womens shoes

Deepika Olive said...

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Martina said...

Great article about Spanish Shoes! I live in Australia and find it hard to find Spanish shoes, sadly most of them are Chinese made and nowhere near the same quality. Luckily a few online shops are opening and stocking them like www.pasionshoes.com.au

Anonymous said...

This is a pretty cool article on the quick history of Spain's footwear sector and designers who influenced the Spanish footwear industry. I, myself, am looking for some factories to produce mid-to high-end mens and womens shoes for my brand. Particularly, I am looking for men's dress and casual shoes (oxfords, chukka boots, brogue wingtips, etc) and women's shoes (heels, pumps, flats, platforms, etc).

Does anyone have any recommendations of factories that I can check out?

Thank you.

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