Published On: Mon, Jan 27th, 2014

Merida’s own artisan shoes (via Switzerland)

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Alicia Gamboa is a Yucatecan lady with a distinct Swiss influence. She was born here in Merida, studying anthropology before opening a Swiss restaurant called Il Grotto. She then moved to Switzerland, studying shoemaking at the Kurszentrum Ballenberg under the tutelage of Franz Kälin. The Ballenberg Course Centre is part of the Ballenberg open air museum (part funded by UNESCO), and has been offering courses in traditional crafts since 1996. After twenty years in Switzerland, Alicia, with her Swiss partner, decided to move back to the city of her birth.

Alicia inside her workshop B & G

Alicia Gamboa, shoe artisan, inside her workshop B & G

She came with the idea of establishing her own workshop for shoes. That was two and half years ago and in March 2014 her workshop will celebrate its first year of business. B & G artesanos takes its name from the couple who run the workshop with a passion, Bieri and Gamboa. Franz Bieri, Alicia’s partner, looks after the antique machinery and tools that make these artisans even more unique. All of the equipment used was imported from Europe, the majority is over 100 years old, and some of it was salvaged from scrap.

B & G frontage

B & G frontage

B & G started out with two original designs a year ago, they are now producing five and are currently developing a sixth; all original, all unique and all handmade in-house. Despite their modest facilities, Alicia has received many orders from Europe; they are being worn in Germany, France, Italy, and Switzerland to name a few places. Their signature design is named Balam. Signifying Jaguar in Maya, this sandal was designed to fit the foot tightly and snuggly, Alicia tells me “I wanted to design a sandal that didn’t flip flop around when you walked; it fits your foot a lot more neatly. I imagine a jaguar walking silently, light-footed, and this is where the design came from”. Despite its minimalist design, the Balam is fore-mostly a made to measure sandal, this ensures the snug fit.

A salvaged antique sowing machine

A salvaged antique sowing machine

All B & G’s shoes are entirely made of leather, leather which is sourced personally by Alicia from Leon, Guanajuato. Leon, Alicia tells me, is the last remaining centre for shoe artisans in the country, “If your leather shoes were made in Mexico, the likelihood is that they were made in Leon”. There are twice yearly fairs with international clients and exhibitors, and for Alicia it is the only place she can buy the small batch, high quality leather she requires. These small batches assure that individual shoes are made even more unique, “sometimes the leather is only sufficient for one or two pairs. The colours, combinations and textures won’t be repeated”.

B & G’s first model ‘Balam’

B & G’s first model ‘Balam’

B & G is a real labour of love for this Yucatan-Europe partnership, and they proudly display a small museum of antique shoes and shoemaking equipment. Here you will see shoes from around the world; China, India, Morocco and Europe. It is worth a visit just to see these.

A selection of the shoes available

A selection of the shoes available

The antique shoe collection on display

The antique shoe collection on display

If you live in Merida or are just visiting, pay B & G artesanos a visit to appreciate this disappearing craft. Prices start at just $450, a real snip considering the attention to detail and love that goes into every pair. The workshop is open to the general public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9:30am to 8:00pm, or you can make an appointment by calling 999 242 27 78.
B & G artesanos – Calle 10 #185, x 11 y 13, Garcia Gineres, Merida, Yucatan.

Alicia Gamboa, shoe artisan

by Mike Warren

Mike Warren

Mike Warren – born in London to Mexican and English parents, Mike has an inherited talent for photography. His grandfather started a photography business in Mazatlan, Sinaloa and became renowned for the art, bringing his family in to support and ultimately succeed him. This talent passed from generation to generation and Mike has taken to the task of preserving the family art with a passion.

Mike has a distinctly dissimilar background to the usual photographer, studying mathematics at a leading British university and graduating in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree with honors.

In December 2013, Mike took 1st place in the photography competition of “La Noche Blanca”, demonstrating his talent for capturing moments displaying ambience and emotion.

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  1. Alicia Gamboa says:

    Hi, I have a new location: calle 43 no464 por 54 y 52 en el Centro. Gracias

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