Dispatches From Mexico City: These Shoes Are Made For Walking
I get a lot of compliments on my shoes since moving to Mexico, both here and back home in Canada.
The only reason for that is my good friend, Jorge Abdo III. I met Abdo — as we call him — through playing music in Mexico City. He has an excellent solo funk project and when I started a band with my friends he became the sound guy at many of our shows.
It didn’t take long for me to learn that, on top of being a pretty great musician, Abdo had great taste in shoes. Something dear to my heart. But my biggest problem has always been finding non-leather shoes. I don’t like to talk about my veganism very much, but it’s one aspect of my life that makes finding decent, good-looking footwear more difficult. Fortunately for me, I met Abdo.
A Family Story
Abdo is a third-generation shoemaker, or zapatero as they’re called in Mexico. His family is from the city of León, Guanajuato — a shoe mecca of sorts. Indeed, many people consider it the shoe capital of the world.
The family business started with Abdo’s grandfather, who was born in Madera, Chihuahua, in the northern part of the country. One day, as Abdo tells it, when his grandfather was 18 or 19 years old, he saw a bus headed for León and decided to try his luck there.
“He told me that he hated León so much, there was nothing to do. But he loved shoes so much that he decided to stay and learn about them,” Abdo tells me.
Upon arriving in León, his grandfather got to work learning his trade, beginning by buying and selling for other factories. Eventually, he became friends with other shoemakers who taught him the intricacies of being a cobbler. He also managed to save enough money to build a garage on his home and turn it into a small home factory named De Abdo.
“In the beginning, he could just do some parts of the process, so he needed to take them to other garage factories on his block to finish them,” Abdo says.
Passing On The Tradition
From that point on the company grew. In the best years, Abdo says his grandfather was making 5000 shoes per day. Eventually, the father’s knowledge was passed down to the son and Abdo’s father continued to grow the business.
“Since I have memory, I remember being around the factory, the workers, my father and grandfather,” Abdo says.
That experience instilled in the younger Abdo a creative urge that showed itself in multiple ways, whether it was music or shoes.
“I like to create things, to feel they’re my own and give them more meaning,” he says. And that desire shows in his work. He’s expanded on the process passed down to him, employing only the most high-end techniques and materials, from the leathers or synthetics, to the soles, and beyond. “What’s inside that you can’t see,” he explains. “I test at least three pairs of shoes to make corrections until it’s perfect in look, detail, and 100 percent comfortable.”
On top of that, Abdo’s service is impeccable. His company Beirut works mostly with leather, but for me he looked into and found a synthetic alternative that looks as good the real thing. For now, Abdo is looking to the future and concentrating on an online presence that was largely lacking from the previous generations.
A sad thing happened just three weeks ago with the passing of Abdo’s grandfather, but the grandson plans to keep the tradition alive. For now, he says he will continue to make shoes out of his father’s factory, but eventually he wants to open his own workshop and solely produce his line of shoes.
Ty Trumbull, from his base in Mexico City, covers the entrepreneur’s journey and business continuity for ChannelE2E. Each Tuesday or so, he offers views about his adopted hometown — his personal Dispatches from Mexico City. Oh, but sometimes he pops up in his home nation of Canada.