Teysha is an awesome new shoe company based out of Austin, Texas but sourced and produced in Central America. As soon as these amazing boots are purchased online, a turn of positive events takes place; jobs are created in impoverished and economically distraught communities, beautifully crafted artisan shoes are built, and loyal happy customers are made. Not just any old shoe…these are authentic hand-made Guatemalan textile, custom-built boots and I was dying to get my hands (and feet) on a pair.
Completely intrigued by the Teysha brand, I was determined to learn about the journey of these popular ‘Guate’ boots from beginning to end. I was curious to see the hands these shoes passed through and hear the stories of the noble team behind this stylish one-of-a-kind footwear.
First I went to the Teysha website and began the process of constructing my new shoes, which is a very fun and personalized procedure. I chose the style of boot I wanted, the shade of the leather, the two different Guatemalan textiles (so many amazing fabric options, I admit I obsessed for hours on which two to pick) I measured up my feet and ordered my boots. But I didn’t stop there, oh no. I then hopped on a plane to see first hand the step-by-step boot making process unfold. Off to Guatemala I went!
I’d start my journey by meeting the ladies who made the textiles I chose for my shoes. Their shop is a women’s artisan co-op, called ‘Cooperativa Ciminaya’ inthe village of San Juan on magnificent Lake Atitlan. A few busses, a very long walk and a bumpy boat ride later, we pulled up to the tiny lakeside town. I arrived at the simple textile shop off the main road and was greeted by three lovely weaving women dressed in colorful traditional Guatemalan wear. The ladies introduced themselves as Dominga, her mother Rosaria and their employee Carmen. As Rosaria and Carmen continued to weave brightly-colored pieces of cotton thread, Dominga took some time to tell me about the work they did for Teysha.
In Spanish, Dominga explained how the Teysha boot fabrics actually first begin as hand woven Huipils. “A Huipil is a very common Guatemalan blouse and learning to make them is a tradition that has been passed down to us for generations. It is what most of the women here do to earn money and keep our children fed.” The local ladies wear these hand-woven tops until they decide to move on to the next style, the old Huipils are then sold to the folks at Teysha to be used for their beautiful boots. This recycle/reuse system is a very smart concept; allowing women like Dominga to earn an income for their families, strengthen their community’s economy and continue to carry on the creative local tradition of weaving. “Selling to the tourists and the people from Teysha keeps our families alive, but we still struggle. Carmen has lost 3 children because she couldn’t afford to take care of them.” I ask what Dominga hopes for the future. “One day we want to earn enough to own this store. That will make us all very happy.”
In a small Guatemalan village where education and opportunity are scarce, these hard-working women are truly inspirational. What a pleasure and honor it was to meet these ladies. I purchased a hand-woven shawl from their shop, specifically made by sweet Dominga, thanked the women for their dedication and off I went to find the men who build the Teysha boots.
The Teysha boot workshop is located in a small village called Pastores, known specifically for making leather shoes. After another long bus ride and an even longer walk, I arrived at the studio where I was greeted by Travis and Hanna, two of the young founders of Teysha. It was so wonderful to finally meet some of the folks who created this amazing brand. They showed me around the small workshop and introduced me to all their local employees as they told me a bit more about their vision. “We believe that social entrepreneurship, conscious capitalism, and micro-finance are some of the most effective tools for empowering people. That’s what Teysha is all about. If we weren’t here, a lot of these guys would struggle to find work. So we hope to continue to grow and progress… Now lets go meet Cesar, the man who made your boots, its just a short walk.”
As Travis led me out of the workshop, we walked up a small dirt path and into a narrow alleyway surrounded by disheveled tin shacks. He explained that many employees work from home, “There simply isn’t enough space in the studio for everyone.” We arrived to Cesar’s house, a one room tin box, dirt floors and little electricity. Although the surroundings were dismal, Cesar’s spirits were high as he hammered, glued, cut and even set a flame to a pair of soon-to-be boots. “Cesar’s been making shoes since he was 12 years old, he’s a pro.” Watching Cesar’s hands move quickly and rhythmically was fascinating. Travis went on, “This is the only income he has to take care of his family and we hope when Teysha grows, we can give him more work and find a larger more efficient workspace for all our employees.” Step by step we watched the scraps of leather, rubber and textiles transform into a beautiful pair of boots, soon to be shipped off to their new owner. Once again, I shook the hands that made my shoes and thanked Cesar for his wonderful work.
Back on our feet, we walked down through the small tin hut village to the Teysha workshop and when we arrived, Hanna handed me my new shoes. They were absolutely beautiful. And not only the way they looked, but in the story behind them. No longer just boots, these handcrafted items now carried an inspiring story of growth, strength and empowerment.
As I slipped the Teysha boots onto my tired over-walked feet, I thought of the incredible journey I had taken to get here, the hours I spent at home in Brooklyn fretting over which textiles to pick…then jumping on a plane to Guatemala…traveling by boat to meet darling Dominga, and the long bus ride to the Teysha workshop where I watched Cesar hammer the final nails into those beautiful boots. And now next to Travis and Hanna, smiling beside me, waiting eagerly to see if their shoes had made yet another loyal happy customer – safe to say, they did.
From start, to finish, to foot…the Teysha shoe story was well worth the walk.