Sunday, May 7, 2017

First Impressions - The Summer Sandal - Chamula Original Cancun and Chichen Huaraches

Chamula Huaraches
Chamula Chichen (left); Chamula Cancun (right)

"You need a pair of sandals!" my wife decreed. I looked down at the old Rainbow flip flops that followed me from my younger years. They had held up admirably, to their credit, until the end of last summer when our new puppy decided to Pacman his way through the leather thongs. I have to say, though, while I've always appreciated the convenience of flip flops, I can't say I've ever particularly liked the vibe associated with them - a sort of graphic tee and board shorts sort of feeling that hasn't translated particularly well for me out of beach wear and into my adult life. In fact, I've been leaning away from flip flops for quite some time now, mostly finding myself in espadrilles during the hotter months over the past few seasons.

Chamula Huaraches

Last summer, I set my eyes on a pair of Chamula Original's huaraches, a line of footwear based on the traditional Mexican woven leather sandals. Now almost a year later with the weather warming, my old flip flops properly chewed up, and East Dane including Chamula in a recent sale, I figured it was high time to graduate to a better summer sandal. I ended up ordering a couple pairs - a closed-toed model called the "Cancun," as well as an open-toed version named "Chichen" to try.

Design, Materials, and Construction


Chamula Cancun
Chamula Cancun - Tan


Chamula Cancun huaraches (in brown) under construction (from Chamula Original's website)
Huaraches are traditional Mexican woven leather sandals of pre-European origin first worn by the working class and slowly assimilated into North American culture over the next few hundred years. First constructed with leather outsoles studded with hobnails, the more iconic form is probably that made with recycled tires for soles, though in modern times they can be soled with pretty much anything. Coincidentally, we happen to have a student of Mexican heritage rotating with us at work, and he told me growing up huaraches were typical footwear in his household. When I asked him about his experience, he remarked on the relative ease of which one might slip them on and off so that "when your parents are mad at you, they always hit you with huaraches." The more you know.

Chamula Chichen
Chichen pattern weaving

Typically, the sandals are made from leather woven in and out of the insole until the entire last is covered. The patterns created can range from the ultra simple to the ultra complex, and different patterns are proprietary to each maker. I'm particularly a fan of the repeating triangle motif on the Chamula's Cancun and the central diamond design of the Chichen model.

Weaving process at the Chamula factory
Chamula huaraches are still made in Mexico using naturally vegetable tanned leather - in this case light tan in color, though the Cancun is a touch darker and slightly richer in color than the Chichen model, oddly enough. Of note, this type of leather has no protective surface applied and therefore leaves it "vulnerable" to the environment, if you will. That may sound like a negative aspect at face value, but it's actually one of the most desirable things about it - the leather embraces wear and age, and tends to do so gracefully.

That being said, the leather used on these huaraches is thinner and softer out of the box than something like the beefy vachetta found on a more substantial shoe like my Buttero Taninos, which makes sense being summer attire. The leather strips are hand cut with slight variation in widths and left mostly raw edged, lending a more rustic feel and handmade feel to the sandals.

In hand, the huaraches are surprisingly light - almost strikingly so - similar to the weight of a pair of flip flops. There's unfortunately not as much information readily available on the details of huarache construction - at least not in English (though there are a few Spanish videos I've watched on YouTube showcasing traditional huarache makers) - but from what I've been able to gather, the leather is hand woven over a last (the mold that forms the upper shape) and through a leather insole, which in turn is then stitched to a foam/EVA midsole and likely cemented to the outsole - in this case patterned to resemble the tire tread of its inspiration.

Chamula Chichen
EVA "tire tread" soles

EVA is known for being light and resilient, but for what it's worth the reflexive feeling of the outsoles on first touch of Chamula's huaraches is a bit underwhelming. Let me be clear, that's not really a fair statement as there is a lot of variability between formulations in terms of EVA quality and only time will truly tell how they hold up, but the soles would be my highest suspect on first impression on limiting the life of the product (which is true of most footwear). I should note that Chamula also makes a version of their huaraches with crepe soles, though those are only available through their official website store.

Chamula Cancun


Chamula Cancun
On the whole, Chamula huaraches seem to be of decent construction, with a few reservations as noted above. Patterns are cut cleanly, the machine-stitching is pretty clean, and materials are acceptable for the price point, though generally unremarkable. Most of the value from a materials, design, and construction standpoint I would attribute to the design and aesthetic alone.

Chamula Cancun
Chamula Chichen


 

Sizing, Fit, and Styling


Chamula Cancun Fit
Cancun

I typically take an 8D in most welted shoes, though my right foot is slightly bigger than my left (and I wear a 7.5D in Red Wing and Wolverine). There are a few other first impression and review posts out there on the Chamula Cancun that have mentioned sizing down one size (or more) from your normal, and I ended up ordering a 7 in both models.

Chamula Cancun Fit

Chamula Cancun Fit
My experience with the Cancun is that sizing down one gave me a decent fit on the right and a slightly loose fit on my smaller left foot. This is something I typically don't have a problem with, probably because most footwear I wear laces closed so there's a bit of leeway for size discrepancy. I put a tongue pad on the left (a little adhesive cushion that sticks up under the tongue), and that pretty much took care of the fit issues. I was worried it would make it either too hot or feel strange on the top of my foot but was pleasantly surprised to find that I don't really notice it.

Chamula Chichen Fit
Chichen

The Chichen model is strangely much smaller than the Cancun - I would wager half to even a full size, though it's not often I try and cram my feet into small shoes to compare. With a little elbow grease and a lot of manly grunting I was able to finally squeeze in there to take nice some foot-binding fit pics. Chamula's site advises buying a model a half size smaller than normal overall and "a little bit small, rather than a little bit big" to give the sandals room to stretch, but I found sizing down to feel incredibly restricting. If I were to try again, I'd go true to size and avoid crying again.

Chamula Chichen Fit

In terms of styling, both huaraches are decidedly casual, but the closed toe on the Cancun lends it a more refined loafer feeling - a look that I prefer over the open toe sandal of the Chichen. Despite a few concerns I have about durability as I mentioned above, I have to say I really like the look and fit.

I've been wearing them with some lighter weight cotton and linen pants, though lately I've also been looking for items with a bit more of a relaxed silhouette for the coming summer months, a sentiment recently shared by Derek Guy over at Die, Workwear.


Thoughts and Recommendations


Chamula Huaraches

I ended up returning the Chichens and keeping the Cancuns, which I've been enjoying quite a bit. Chamula lists their huaraches in the range of ~$85-100, of which I paid $68 shipped per pair during East Dane's sale. Truth be told, it'd be hard for me to stomach much more than that not having a better sense about their durability over the long haul, but if they hold up over multiple seasons I'd gladly pay the price again.

If you've looking for something to wear in the summer other than flip flops, camp mocs or boat shoes, huaraches are worth consideration. They come in a variety of different shapes and styles, are relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things, and occupy an aesthetic space not easily filled by other options. Some are dressier than others, more intricate than others, and flashier than others, which offer a large array of choices to suit many tastes. Like many other articles of clothing you may mistake for being simple and homogenous at first blush, the rabbit hole goes deeper than you might think. If you're interested in further reading, PutThisOn has written a couple articles about them over the years, which you can find here.

Chamula Huaraches

I mentioned huaraches have become more mainstream over time, and more so in the last half century, but in reality there aren't as many outlets to purchase as you might think. You can find an assortment of different huaraches on eBay - some quite appealing, though I have no experience with them personally. For a more complete list of vendors, Chamula or otherwise, take a look at the list below. Thanks for reading, and happy belated Cinco de Mayo, mis amigos.

Pros


Great alternative or addition to warm-weather footwear
A wealth of different options
Rich cultural heritage (it seems I can't write a single post without saying "heritage")
Decent quality vegetable tanned leather

Cons


Questionable sole durability (to be updated in the future after considerable wear)
Construction adequate, but not superlative

Where to Buy:


Chamula Original:


East Dane
Club Monaco
Revolve
Urban Outfitters
Chamula Original


Other Huaraches:


Ukata
eBay
Etsy

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