There are many top Spanish shoe styles that have reached international fame, from high-end Manolo Blahnik to the woven-soled ‘espardenyas’.
For this top gift idea I went straight to the expert: my mother-in-law. She is an avid shoe shopper, and shoes (zapatos, or as an industry calzado) are an important local industry in Spain. Put more succinctly, Spain is a shoe-making country.
While Italy often gets all the international attention, Spain gives the impression it could possibly match Italy for number of shoe manufacturers and quality brands (although I don’t know the actual stats). And, at least up until a few years ago, before the euro-dollar exchange rate shifted dramatically, quality shoes in Spain were seriously cheaper than in the United States (and Spanish brands are still of course cheaper in Spain).
So, while I confess I am not much of a shoe shopper, much less for women’s shoes, even a shoe-style-challenged chap like me recognises that shoes in Spain are excellent, stylish, comfortable and affordable – a winning combination.
A quick scan of the website for the ‘Federación de Industrias del Calzado Español‘ (FICE) gives you a sense of the national presence of Spanish shoemakers. The major industrial areas for footwear production in Spain have been Elche, Elda, Villena, all in Alicante, and the Community of Valencia (indeed, in 2010 the Comunidad Valenciana region was home to about 64% of all shoe manufacturers or fabricantes), followed by these other regions in descending order: Almansa and Fuensalida (Castile-La Mancha), Arnedo (La Rioja), Mallorca and Menorca (Balearic Islands); Illueca (Aragon) and Valverde del Camino (Andalusia). According to export stats from FICE, Spain predominantly exports to France and then other EU countries, though it also exports to the US and Japan.
Top Spanish shoe brands
A perusal of Spanish brands starts to give you an idea of the range of styles and high quality of shoes from Spain, but above all of the incredible number of shoe companies. Since this list is going to get pretty long, I’m keeping things succinct by annotating in parenthesis brand highlights (eg. gender focus, locale of home base). You will quickly see what I was saying about a serious concentration of shoe brands from Alicante, and also a strong showing on the Balearic Islands – both regions with a long history in shoe production.
High-end Spanish shoe brands
We can start with high fashion. Easily the most famous shoe designer to come out of Spain is Manolo Blahnik for women. Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City made his shoes famous through her shopping obsession with them. This shoe designer was born on the Canary Islands (his mother is Spanish), but eventually moved away and today the brand is based in the US.
There are plenty of other established fashionable Spanish shoe brands as well. While they do not quite reach the same level of acclaim (or sticker shock), here is a list of some other higher-end shoe labels:
- Paco Gil (women’s, Elda in Alicante)
- Brenda Zaro (women’s)
- Bay shoes (men’s, Mallorca)
- Pons Quintana (women’s, Menorca)
- Carmen Poveda (women’s, Alicante)
- Farrutx (Inca in Mallorca)
- Pedro Miralles (women’s, Elche in Alicante).
Mid-range Spanish shoe brands
At the mid-range, probably the most visible and recognised Spanish shoe brand is Camper (from Mallorca). As is the case for many of these Spanish brands, Camper was the result of a younger generation shoemaker, Fluxá, from a long line of shoemakers, who decided to branch off from the family business and begin a national, and later international, brand. Another upscale shoe label, Lottusse (men’s, Mallorca), is also from Fluxá family.
But Camper is just one of many other Spanish brands starting to sport the ‘Hecho en España‘ (Made in Spain) label, showing pride in the country’s impressive industry.
Here the list gets pretty long, though I (or really my mother-in-law) can vouch for most of these labels:
- Panama Jack
- Zinda (women’s, Elche)
- Hispanitas (Petrer in Alicante)
- Pielsa (men’s)
- Callaghan (part of the Grupo Hergar, in Arnedo, self-proclaimed “Ciudad del calzado”)
- Lodi (women’s, Elda)
- Looky (women’s, Menorca)
- Vulladi (home-wear and children’s, Elche)
- Patricia Miller (women’s).
Mid to low range Spanish shoe brands
There are slightly more affordable shoes priced in the mid to low range. In this group Wonders is the most recognisable. The soles of my wife’s Wonders shoes say ‘Made with love in Spain’.
But there are also some newer, colourful brands, including:
- 24 horas (Elche)
- Snipe (which makes natural, ecological shoes, based in Valencia)
- La Cadena (Munilla in La Rioja)
- Valverde del Camino, Tejus (Alicante)
- Segarra (boots, Valle de Uxó in Castellón)
- Victoria (youth, in particular ‘bambas‘ or ‘zapatillas’, logroño).
And this is not a comprehensive list of all the Spanish shoe brands that exist.
The local Spanish styles
In addition to these many brands, there are a few styles of footwear that evolved from local Spanish shoe traditions.
Perhaps the most established and increasingly exported Spanish style of footwear are menorquinas sandals, or avarca de Menorca. These simple, modest sandals are based on the humble, functional shoes that farmers and fieldworkers traditionally wore on the island. Today you can find them in all different colours and designs, from simple to incredibly elegant and expensive, but the base of their popularity is as a typical tourist purchase when you visit the islands.
You’ll notice everyone, tourists and locals alike, wear them on the islands in the summer. When we visited Menorca one summer, we bought ourselves a pair of Ria menorquinas. Ria is probably the most famous of brands on the island. And remember how I said that Menorca is one of several major footwear producing regions? There are hundreds of Minorcan shoe brands each with their own line of sandals in this niche market.
Another traditional Spanish shoe are espardenyas, which comes from the Catalán region and word esparto, a kind of textile made of grass. This local style comes from the very old style of shoe alpargatas – woven sandals – the origins of which probably go back to the ancient Egyptians but whose introduction to Europe can be traced to the medieval period in Spain and France. (Though similar shoes are also found in the Americas during the same period). For this style of shoe one of the better known manufacturers is Castañer, which specialises in more modern versions of this classic shoe.
Given all the great Spanish shoe brands and local styles, it goes without saying that Spain is a great place to go shoe shopping. But where to do it? Here I’m limited by my local knowledge, so I can only recommend specific shoe shops (zapaterías) in Valencia: Zapa (C/ Don Juan de Austria 34, 46002 Valencia), Aviñó (Paseo Ruzafa, 4, 46002 Valencia) and Yacaré (has three locations, including C/ Colón 42, 46004 Valencia).
But there are hundreds of local shoe shops in every major Spanish city. If you go to any major shopping area, I’m sure you’ll find some good local ones and then keep your eyes out for the tried and tested Spanish brands mentioned above.
Although I’m not really a shoe person, after living in Spain for many years and investigating this story, even I have come to acknowledge that Spanish shoe producers have elevated a craft to the level of an art, yet with a certain practicality, modesty and lack of pretension that deserves some recognition. They are at the forefront of a culture of style and creative imaging, which embraces tradition (without clinging to it) rather than losing touch with it. You really can’t go wrong shoe shopping in Spain.
Shoe traditions in Spain
If you’re living in Spain, and especially if you’re living with Spaniards, you’ll want to get some footwear to wear around the house. I’ve discovered that most (if not all) Spaniards feel a strong impetus to never go barefoot at home. While it is not overtly due to any concern with cleanliness – floors could be clean enough to eat off as far as they could care – the lack of bare feet makes it almost seem as if walking around home without sandals (sandalias) or flip flops (chanclas) is unhygienic or repulsive. Note: wearing socks is not sufficient; it needs to be something that qualifies as footwear.
I suppose they land on the opposite end of the spectrum from Americans, many of whom habitually go around their homes barefoot, and certainly Buddhists and some Asians who would ask you to remove your footwear before entering the house. So pack a pair of slippers or flip-flops when you visit the Spanish – or better yet, go shoe shopping once you get in Spain! Menorquinas, anyone?