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.