09 June 2006

From cobblestones to cocktails

By David Agren, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

At first glance, Nina Harman's open-toe shoes with elastic straps and a small heel hardly seemed ideal for traversing the steep cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a colonial town with a mushrooming expatriate population. In reality, she walked circles around her two visiting friends, who were wearing sports sandals, which supposedly offered plenty of support and had rubber soles.

"I hike in these," she boasted while taking a lunch break.

"I do everything in these shoes."

Everything includes going to formal events. The shoes, dubbed, "Combat, cocktail sandals," are extremely practical, yet elegant enough for classy occasions. Its deft mixture of style and functionality has won it an immense following in expatriate circles and increasing in markets beyond Mexico. The shoes combine a firm elastic upper with a sole designed for comfort and come in more than 500 styles, ranging from sandals to wedges, and 100 colors, including eclectic shades like green apple and teal. Ankle boots and mule-style models have recently been unveiled.

Harman said the shoes "really support your feet and allow them to breathe."As a bonus, "They make my Size 9 foot look like a Size 5."

"Even with high heels, your feet feel secure."

The shoes' inspiration came from an improbably source: an accountant. Santiago Gallardo along with several family members founded San Miguel Shoes 13 years ago. Gallardo previously worked as an accountant for several shoe factories before dabbling in shoe design. Despite his profession's reputation for dullness, Gallardo designed the original models. The business was based in San Miguel due to the town's tourist traffic and large expatriate population.

The expatriates brought the shoes to Canada, where footwear importer Cedric Morrice, learned of the trend. He described San Miguel Shoes as "all-age ... not necessarily a young shoe."

Although not yet one of his best-selling imports, he acknowledged, "My wife owns about six pairs."

San Miguel Shoes sell for around $35 in Mexico – depending on the model – but go for $80 - $100 in most Canadian boutiques. (Large chains generally don't stock the shoe).

Santiago Gallardo said his firm now produces some men's models, but has stayed focused on the female market because, "Women spend more."

When spotted the next day, Nina Harman, toting a bag from one of San Migue Shoes' outlets, sheepishly confessed, "I bought another pair," but later added her spend was a symptom of "an acceptable fetish."

Published in the Ottawa Citizen.

No comments: