El Shop

Pilar Agüero-Esparza and Hector Dionicio Mendoza

By Julia Bradshaw

Pilar Agüero-Esparza is now a third generation shoemaker. Brought up making shoes for her father’s store appropriately named ‘El Shop’, Agüero-Esparza created her own adult future away from the craft of shoemaking. Later, after her MFA degree in spatial arts at San Jose State University, she started to revisit leather as a material that has utility as a sculptural form. Together with her artistic partner, Hector Dionicio Mendoza, the team applied for and received a commission from ZERO1 and the James Irvine Foundation to apprentice with her father and learn the craft of creating ‘huaraches’ – a Mexican form of sandal made with a woven leather upper and a sole made of recycled tires or leather.

Pilar Agüero-Esparza at ‘El Shop’ South Hall, ZeroOne, 2010

Viist ‘El Shop’ in south hall and you will see a full-blown shoemaking service. The team has produced traditional huaraches, which are laid out on display in a manner typical of a flea market. Agüero-Esparza says that these sandals would typically retail for about $20. In his prime, her father was making, with the help of women living in LA from the village Saguayo in the Michoacan region of Mexico, about 200 of these sandals a week. These women would make the sandals at home and were paid for each pair produced. Agüero-Esparza  explains that in this way the women were able to stay at home and look after the family.

Working in South Hall the past two weeks, Agüero-Esparza and Dionicio Mendoza have created a mash-up of huaraches and high-fashion. They make a conscious effort to recycle materials, soles from old shoes and leather thongs – off-cuts from other manufacturing processes – to recreate the huarache style and also use new materials to give the footwear a modern, LA high-fashion twist. A $20 pair of huaraches requires craftmanship, skill and time – labelling it high fashion and giving the sandals the aura of a mention by Jack Kerouac, the sandals inspire conflict. What price fashion? What price do we pay for skill and craft? At Works gallery on Saturday night from around 7pm – 9pm, the team will showcase the sandals in a fashion show as well as screen a video of Agüero-Esparza’s parents discussing the craft and the lifestyle of an LA shoe-maker.

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