The story of huaraches, Mexico’s ubiquitous leather sandal, is a Hollywood-worthy, rags to riches tale. Starting life as footwear favored by farm workers, these humble, handmade leather sandals went on to inspire one of the world’s most popular sneakers.
Origin of huaraches
Lamentably, the true beginning of the huarache tale is lost. We do know they were favored by farming communities in the pre-Columbian era, particularly around the states of Jalisco, Michoacán, Guanajuato, and Yucatan.
However, there is no evidence to say whether they originated in one of these states or a separate one entirely.
We do know, however, that the early sandals were practical, all-leather constructions typically made from deer hide. They were cheap, strong, and comfortable enough for long days working in the field — attributes which lead to a widening popularity across the country.
Did you know?: The name huarache comes from the word kuarache, meaning sandal, from the Tarascan language spoken by the Purépecha people of Jalisco
Surprisingly, the Spanish colonization of Mexico in the early 16th century did little to dent their spread, although the introduction of cattle saw a move to cow leather rather than deer hide.
By the turn of the 20th century, huaraches had conquered the country. Designs varied, but the shoe’s essence stayed the same. In the 1930s, rubber soles were added, cut from cut tires, while, in the 1960s, their popularity spread north of the border thanks to the hippie movement, which adopted them as their footwear of choice.
Running on huaraches
Perhaps the most famous adoption of huaraches, however, is found in the undulating landscape of Chihuahua’s Sierra Madre Occidental, where the indigenous Rarámuri people live.
With communities spread across vast lands, the Rarámuri developed the ability to run superhuman distances; some say more than 250 miles in a single day.
To make things even more curious, they do it without the benefit of hi-performance running shoes. They do it in huaraches.
While it might seem counter-intuitive, it’s been argued that the relatively simple nature of the sandals makes them perfect for running. It’s said that without the support found in modern running shoes, the huaraches better emulate the barefoot gait of our ancestors, which could be better for our bodies.
The feats of the Rarámuri, captured by TV crews and writers, meant the legend of huaraches is secured. However, there was one more development that would turn them into a household name across the world.
A giant joins the race
By the mid-20th century, huaraches had spread across North and South America. But it was in 1991, when sports giants Nike released their Huarache range, that they became a global sensation.
Despite looking very different from the traditional sandal, Nike’s effort continued huaraches’ famed comfort, advertising their shoes with the tag line: “Have you hugged your foot today?” Success was not instantaneous, but their popularity grew and grew.
Nearly 20 years later, and the Huarache became Nike’s best-selling range of sneakers with around 4 million pairs sold globally every year. The tale of huaraches — from humble sandal to global superstar — had found its Hollywood ending.
Pick-up your own authentic huaraches
To own a pair of authentic huaraches you will need to buy them at source. Journey Mexico’s expert travel planners can help you put together the ultimate shopping vacation, visiting everything from the luxury shops of Mexico City to the authentic markets and local artisans of Oaxaca. Simply fill out our Trip Planner and one of our knowledgable Travel Planners will get back to you.