Shoe making Spain
Alicante is a shoppers’ heaven with the grand El Corte Ingles department store, shopping malls with high-street brands such as Mango, Zara and Bershka. It is also home to a thriving shoe-making industry with craftspeople creating everything from desert boots to high-heeled, colourful party shoes.
Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City is famous for her love of shoes. She would be in seventh heaven if she took a trip to the Alicante region of Spain with its high heels and kitten heels in a rainbow of colours with matching handbags or clutches too.
Fellow shoe aficionados need not go as far as New York to satisfy their cravings. The city of Elche, about 18 kilometres from Alicante international airport, has more than 1, 000 shoe factories, making it one of the most important footwear producers in Europe.
About 50% of Spain’s shoe-makers are based in and around Elche including brands like Panama Jack, Pura Lopez, Ana Roman, Garvalin and Salvador Artesano. They produce everything from children’s shoes to ladies footwear and therapeutic or orthopaedic shoes.
The nearby inland town of Elda, about 34kms north of Elche, also has an impressive shoe-making industry and now boasts a fabulous shoe museum with more than 15, 000 items celebrating the history, tradition and culture of the industry.
From farming to fashion
The industry in Elda and Elche dates back to the late 19th century when crafts people started to find different uses for natural vegetable fibres such as jute and hemp. Some started to make shoes like those woven shoes, similar to espadrilles, seen in traditional Alicante costumes. This was another great way to diversify from the traditional farming industry, which was having problems at that time, while still using local products.
Elda started to transform from a farming community to an industrial village as more families began to embrace crafts using the local reeds and grasses. Apprentices started to move in from outside the village and by the end of the 19th century, factories sprung up to cope with the demand for these quality shoes.
Neighbouring towns such as Elche and Villena also cottoned on to the thriving craft and local families set up workshops and factories of their own. By the 1960s the shoe industry developed strongly to become a dynamic industry, not just within Spain but also exporting to other European countries, USA and Russia. Quality leather and canvas shoes for men, women and children can be bought at knockdown prices from the factory shops.
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