Tuesday, December 1, 2009

sandals and the Tarahumara Indians

by frédérik sisa

Okay, kids, welcome back! I trust you enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday stuffed, as it were, with turkey, tofurky, or other culinary delights. But it's back to business here at the Fashionoclast, and I'm really excited about the sandals - and the fascinating story that goes with them - I'll be writing about both here and, in a few months time, at The Front Page Online.

So what are huarache running sandals? And what do they have to do with the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico? This week I lay the groundwork through a little chat with Sean Hull of sierrasandals.com.

Who are the Tarahumara Indians?

Probably one of the last indigenous/native tribes of the world who are completely removed from 'modern' civilization. They are closely related to the native American tribes of the Southwest.

How did you discover them?

By chance. On a completely unrelated trip to that part of Mexico to see the Copper Canyon, I ran across this tribe of native Indians so removed from civilization, it was almost unbelievable.

What challenges to they face?

Primarily, surviving on their own land due to a) a long running drought, b) environmental 'depreciation' (due to such things as logging), and c) the ever-increasing narco traffic/activities in their habitat.

What makes their sandals so special?

Two words: minimalist & functional. Born out of necessity & circumstance, the sandals are minimal - tire treads & leather straps - but serve their purpose and (as it turns out) support a growing trend in our own culture – running barefoot or with minimal footwear.

What made you decide to get involved?

Just as unbelievable it was to see these Indians so removed from modern civilization, so was their plight. Seeing mothers, with kids in tow, practically eating dirt in the streets of the cities as they were panhandling was brutal. It seemed so absolutely impossible only south of the U.S. border.

How does purchasing these sandals benefit the Tarahumara...and what do wearers get out of it?

Cash means nothing to the Tarahumara. They live off their land & each other. So we work with a non-profit organization that uses the cash to provide items to the Tarahumara that they desperately need basic necessities such as corn. What the wearers get are sandals that are handmade artifacts (if you will) and the sense of helping people that desperately need it.

What are your plans for sierrasandals.com?

For now, establish a source of revenue for the Tarahumara. In the long run, maybe a place where other people in need can sell their handmade sandals. Not trying to be dramatic, but sandals have been made by people all across the world since the stone age.

What organizations are you working with/supporting?

For now, I'm going to keep that one close to the vest. But know that they are not-for-profit & absolutely consumed with helping the Tarahumara in any way they can. For example, one of the organizations has negotiated a contract with Wal Mart (somewhat ironic) in Mexico to sell the Tarahumara weaved-grass "pottery."

A big shout-out to Sean for his generous help pointing me to great resources on the Tarahumara and for getting me a pair of sandals to try out. Next week, it'll be a detailed foots-on review. Stay tuned!


Leslie said...

How much money do the artisans actually see? In Mexico, they sell their sandals for less than $10 and it all goes straight to them.

Frederik Sisa said...

Hi Leslie!

That's a good question, and I'm afraid I don't have an exact number for you. If I were to make an educated guess, accounting for shipping and distribution costs, I would estimate it amounts to about the same, especially since the organizations involved are, as far as I know, non-profit.

This is the sort of detail I've been planning to look at in a more in-depth piece of the Tarahumara. However, I can say that the sandals were handled by an organization called Lum Metik, which promotes fair-trade practices with Mexican artisans. They work with non-profits like La Mujer Obrera, who in turn support women workers.

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