From Munich to Guatemala
When SOFTCLOX founder Cristina Mühle was looking for a beautiful photo shoot location in autumn 2020, no one could have imagined what would emerge: an inspiring project full of heart and soul, women's power and ancient Mayan art. Would shoes also play a role? Who knows...
But let's start from the beginning: Munich's "Werksviertel -Mitte" is an extraordinary city district with plenty of space for creativity, art, social commitment, eating, drinking and dancing - in short, for joie de vivre. With its industrial charm and artistic graffiti, it is the ideal place for the photo shoot for the spring/summer 2021 collection.
The Werksviertel-Mitte is closely affiliated with Guatemala through its history. It is also home to the Guatemalan consulate in Munich and a special heart project was born there. Cristina was keen to learn more about it and what she heard touched and excited her from the spot. An idea began to grow in her head...
Coming up with the fabric
The world is full of beautiful things - you just have to find them. In Guatemala, indigenous women have been passing on their knowledge from generation to generation as guardians of the ancient Mayan art of weaving for 2,000 years, weaving beautiful fabrics after this tradition. Thus, they preserve an important cultural element of the Mayas to these days.
The project, which we heard about in the "Werksviertel Mitte", helps these women to finance their own independence and that of their children. Steady orders create a reliable source of income for them. Only regularity makes schooling and health care possible - and hence a secure and future-oriented basis for the following generations.
This project was initiated by Nata Y Limón, a social label that is also responsible for the active management. The founders Anne and Marlene are looking for worldwide applications for the fabrics and also form the communicative bridge between Guatemala and Germany.
Cristina, who has been a strong supporter of women with SOFTCLOX since the beginning and from her own history, was extremely taken with the idea of supporting indigenous women in their independence. Moreover, the fabrics that the weavers make on the hip loom in the ancient Mayan tradition are of such artistry and beauty that the idea of a summer SOFTCLOX stuck with her. For the first time, she was convinced by a fabric as an upper material for our wooden shoes – only leather had reached that before.
But there were still some challenges to come.
From theory to practice
Now it was time to try out. From Nata Y Limòn we received various fabric samples in different weaving techniques from Guatemala and had them tested by our production professionals on several shoe models. Wow, that wasn't so easy! We had great respect to cut the little artworks for our patterns. And there were also many challenges to overcome, because shoes and their uppers have to withstand special stresses and not every material is suitable for their production.
We tried out, discarded and rethought. We had to abandon the idea of a classic clog with the woven fabrics, as well as some elaborate woven styles. The very ornate brocade weave, for example, is tied with countless knots on the underside, which made the fabrics in the lining too knobbly; we feared they would pinch the feet. The ikat weave showed its limits while stretching on the shoe, the pattern warped.
Left: Brocade weave - right: Ikat weave
Many shoe designs later, we had found out that the so-called Liso weaving technique was best to use for our project. Our Kelly mule, a popular classic, turned out to be the "perfect match" for the woven fabrics.
Now the creative people from Nata Y Limòn took over again and designed Liso stripe designs in different colours for us, which were then turned into wonderful pattern fabrics for SOFTCLOX prototypes by the weavers in Guatemala.
Let's see which design will win.
From ancient Mayan art to modern women's shoes
The fabric samples now travelled from Guatemala to Munich and we manufactured the first prototypes with them. What a wow moment to see the finished designs of the weavers paired with our SOFTCLOX wooden sole!
With these little pieces of art, we then went to shoe fairs to delight shoe retailers and tell them the extraordinary story of their creation. Particulary small retailers can be convinced of such special projects, and so a fine and exclusive distribution circle was established.
In the end, there was a clear winner: the sand-coloured style with the bright stripes in the colours of Guatemala. The weavers in Guatemala thus had a new order.
And this is what it looked like - weaving on the hip loom requires both skill and many years of practice:
Eight weeks later we held the finished, beautifully cheerful fabric in our hands and began to produce this special summer shoe in anticipation.
Of course, the cloth cannot be applied to the shoe in its original state. It is first lined with soft leather and processed so that it does not fray. Then the now finished upper part of the shoe is mounted on our wooden sole.
And now the time has finally come: more than one and a half years after our photo shoot in the "Werksviertel Mitte", where the journey began, we hold the finished pieces of art in our hands and are happy to be able to offer our dear customers a very special pair of SOFTCLOX. One that appreciates the working hands, the invested energy and the hearts of the makers.
We are very pleased with the result - a fusion of ancient Mayan tradition, timeless design and natural materials. A project that was created in mutual appreciation and that gives our SOFTCLOX a special beauty and soul.
We love the idea that every woman who owns a pair of "KELLY Maya" helps mothers in Guatemala to finance their children's schooling. And thus carries a piece of the joy of life on her feet that is embodied in every shoe.