Archives for category: Faces of Folklorico

Duran's Shoes A dancer depends on his or her shoes just as much as the shoes depend on the dancer.  In folklorico, the shoes enhance the music and provide the beat of the zapateado.  As a folklorista, I have never really put much thought into the person behind my shoes until I decided to buy a new pair at Duran’s Shoes back in November 2014.  This quaint little shoe store located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles is known for customizing each shoe by hand based on each dancer’s needs. Walking into Duran’s Shoes feels like walking into your abuelita’s home.  Photos of dancers, musicians, superheroes and Trekkies adorn the walls of the tiendita, smiling and thanking Duran for their new pair of shoes.  White boxes are stacked neatly on the shelves along the walls and a curio cabinet proudly displays some awards, shoes and photos.  One of the shelves even drapes a variety of different colored leather, ready to be chosen and transformed into a shoe.IMG_0126

Although the story of Duran’s Shoes began in a garage on 3rd Street in Boyle Heights, the legacy of Duran’s Shoes spans back much further to a small village in Durango, Mexico.  Gonzalo Duran, the founder of Duran’s Shoes learned his trade at his father’s shoe repair shop at a young age. He would gain additional experience from the legendary cowboy boot shoemaker, Tony Lama in his teens.  After marrying the love of his life, Isabel and starting his family, he would gain additional experience working at a shoe factory in Los Angeles.

In the 1950s, Gonzalo would spend countless hours after work creating shoes in his garage.  He would eventually convert the garage into a shoe factory and the rest became history. Folklorico Shoes and boots by Duran's ShoesWord of mouth marketing drove business to the store, he hired employees to keep up with the demand, and he eventually expanded the product line to fit the needs of his audience.  He designed everything from drill team boots, jazz shoes, leather skirts, gloves, weight belts, and flamenco shoes.  One may wonder how Gonzalo began designing folklorico shoes.  According to his daughter Margarett, “One day, a customer came to him with a folklorico shoe in hand and asked Gonzalo if he could replicate the shoe.  He said yes.”  Since then, Duran’s Shoes has been serving the folklorico community by creating custom made folklorico shoes.  Gonzalo passed away in March 2002 at 78 years. Mrs. Isabel Duran of Duran's Shoes with blogger

Flash forward to 2015, Gonzalo’s wife, Isabel Duran continues to own and manage the store with the help of her two daughters, Isabel and Margarett.   Isabel, Gonzalo’s wife is the unsung hero of Duran’s Shoes.  She was extremely instrumental in co-founding the small mom and pop shoe shop with her husband, Gonzalo.  During the early days of the company, Isabel would personally pick out the leather and sew the shoes together.  Margarett, Isabel’s youngest daughter reminisced, “Once in a while, Mom would gather up all of the kids to come try on shoes.  Afterwards, they would get treated to McDonalds.” When her husband passed, she worked with the employees to continue fulfilling orders and keep the business running.  Thanks to Isabel, Duran’s Shoes is continuing to serve its customers including folklorico dancers everywhere and continue the legacy of her husband, Gonzalo. “People loved him and what I loved about him most was he was very kind,” said Isabel Duran. Luis of Duran's Shoes working on a shoe

After visiting the tiendita, guests like myself have the opportunity to view the facilities where the shoes are made. Behind the garage doors, another world exists filled with shoes in the process of coming to life and machinery that aid in their beginnings.  Two men, who appear to be in their late 50s or early 60s, demonstrate over 60 years of combined knowledge as shoe cobblers.  They have developed a system where the first employee, Luis would prep the fabric into a pattern and sew the shoes in shape. The second employee, David, would create the sole, heels and put the shoe together.   Luis, at 18 years, and David, at 12 years, began their training in the city of Leon in Guanajuato, Mexico. David of Duran's Shoes working on a pair of shoes In the 1980s, they both moved to the U.S. to work at Duran’s Shoes thanks to their individual acquaintances.

Both men are very passionate about their work, care about the quality of the shoes they create, and enjoy witnessing their shoes in action at local groups’ performances.  “I feel proud and very happy to see my work on-stage,” said Luis.  Few people realize the amount of time and precision it takes to make one pair of folklorico shoes.  From start to finish, it takes 14 hours to create a single pair, which includes the hour it takes to hammer the nails in the soles.  Despite the hard work and long hours, everyone at Duran’s Shoes takes pride in bringing happiness to their customers through quality footwear, continuing Gonzalo Duran’s legacy.  “I have had teachers in Mexico, but Gonzalo was the master.  I learned a lot from him and was proud to know him,” reminisced David.

Papa

I will never forget the look on my grandfather’s face when I entered onstage in my USC inspired ranchera to the sound of La Negra. His normal dazed expression turned into a smile and a light of joy twinkled in his eyes. I have never seen him so happy in the 14 months he had been bedridden at that point. That moment I had with my grandfather onstage made the work and effort I put into planning the folklorico show worth it. I began dancing folklorico because my grandma and my papa wanted me too. Now I dance folklorico to honor them.

I began my folklorico journey as a dancer at 4 years old when my grandma persuaded my mom to sign me up for classes. When she was younger, she along with her two younger brothers was able to take a class with a local community group. She learned and performed Las Chiapanecas and fell in love with folklorico. My grandma wanted to continue taking lessons but was unable to due to her family financial situation. When I began dancing, my grandma and papa did everything they could to support me. They took me to my dance lessons, they went shopping with my mom and I for costumes and accessories and they attended my performances.

My grandparents are my biggest fans. They support my evolving role in the folklorico community and strive to be there whenever they can despite the challenges they face. My grandparents set off the perfect chain reaction in beginning my folklorico journey; something I will always be thankful for.

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Miicamisa Folk-Urban Wear is leading the way in providing urban yet cultural folklorico wear for folklóristas. With a modest beginning in David and Irene Gonzalez’s garage three years ago, Miicamisa has grown from providing folklórico wear to the Central Valley in California to fulfilling orders across the country. Its owner and head designer, Chalome Gonzalez is a young, down to earth folklórista who also teaches at a high school and community college part-time. I had the opportunity to interview Chalome to learn more about Miicamisa and her inspiration behind her designs.

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It’s All About Folklórico: How did Miicamisa begin?

Chalome Gonzalez: My mother was a director of El Sol Dance Company, a folklórico troupe in Fresno, CA. I grew up surrounded by folklórico and dance. I remember running around the dance studio and using skirts as blankets for nap time. As a teen, I was always drawing, doodling, and creating, and I always wanted to wear my art. I painted on t-shirts, shoes, pants…anything to represent myself and wear my own art. At 22, I began teaching myself to screen print. It was very difficult; I even wanted to quit a few times. I kept working at it and I took over my parent’s garage with equipment, paints, and t-shirts. I began making shirts for some local churches and businesses in Fresno. After printing shirts for others, I began to create my own designs again; this time inspired by folklórico. I thought, “If ballet dancers, hip hop dancers, and jazz dancers have t-shirts to show their love for dance, why can’t folklórico dancers?” So I wore my first design to practice, and everyone in the group loved it and wanted to buy one. I was in shock that people really liked my designs and were willing to pay for them. I began making more designs inspired by folklórico and word spread to each of the folklórico groups in town. People from LA and the Bay Area saw the shirts I posted on my Facebook and wanted to buy them as well but we didn’t know how to create a website since it was very expensive to have one made. Luckily our family friend, Alfredo Ponce, who just happened to dance folklórico with El Sol, knew how to create websites and got us online. This is our 3rd year in business as Miicamisa and it’s been so great. Now we can ship all over the U.S. and folklórico dancers everywhere can wear their pride on their chest!

It’s All About Folklórico: Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

Chalome Gonzalez: Everywhere! I look at t-shirts online or at the mall and see what’s popular or what I would wear. Then I would add a folklórico twist or my own ideas. I try to think, if I wear this shirt, what statement am I making? I want Miicamisa to be positive and showcase Latinos in a strong way. I hate when I see shirts that say negative things about our culture. For example, if you look up Mexican or Latino shirts online, you see ‘Borracho, Im your Papi, etc;” sayings that are just negative. So I want to kind of change that. Even if its just a t-shirt, I want people to wear it and feel proud, like “Yes, I dance folklórico, I love my culture, I’m in college, I’m a role model!”

It’s All About Folklórico: I am a huge fan of your social media, in particular Instagram! How do you guys come up with ideas for the posts you create?

Chalome Gonzalez: Well again I see what others are doing and then try to flip it! I saw a lot about #flashbackfriday so I thought I’ll post old pictures of me dancing folklórico and call it #folkloricofriday . Then I asked others to do it and people really caught on to it. Again why can we not have our own hashtag day. Now every Friday, I try to create a meme to go with Folklórico Friday. Sometimes its hard; some I don’t get as many “likes.” I try to figure out what people like but its just about putting it out there and seeing the response. Over all social media has allowed us to expand and get to know our customers. We have some people who as soon as they purchase from our store, they keep coming back. We get to have conversations with people online, make connections, and get immediate feedback on ideas. A lot of times they are helping me create the designs. It’s been really great using social media and seeing our customers post about their shirt! We also try to do contests online through Facebook and Instagram and people love that as well!

Miicamisa team

It’s All About Folklórico: What advice would you give to a young folklórista who hopes to start a business one day?

Chalome Gonzalez: Definitely go for it, but I think you have to be different. If you can find one thing about your business that is different from others, you will stand out. I could have kept making t-shirts with no theme, no reason, like all the screen printers in the central valley, but I saw a lack in folklórico inspired wear and tapped into that. So my advice is to find something that isn’t out there on the market or try to make your business a little different from all of the other businesses like it. If you like doing it, keep doing it! To me, designing and creating shirts is not work because I love it. I can spend all day doing it and I’m happy.

Thank you Chalome for agreeing to be interviewed. I hope everyone checks out Miicamisa Folk-Urban Wear’s website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to purchase some of the latest folklórico fashion.

Photos courtesy of MiiCamisa Folk-Urban Wear.