In the shoe industry, there are a few superhubs around the world where the best suppliers, craftsmen and brands congregate to specialize in specific types of footwear. Leon, a city in Guanajuato, Mexico is one such city. Long revered for its hardy cowboy boots and the best rugged leathers in the Western hemisphere, the city has established itself over many decades as a global leader in high-quality boots. While there are still great boots made in the USA, Leon is now considered the unofficial footwear capital of North America, producing more shoes annually than any other city on the continent.
Leon was originally famous for its tanneries. With the availability of high quality cattle hides, ready access to water, and close proximity to the US, Leon’s tanneries have been operating for centuries. The city’s reputation for leather was so well established that it became part of its identity - at football matches, Leon sports teams were nicknamed “panzaverde” or “green bellies” after the way early leathers would die a tanner’s skin. Fortunately, the industry has built on its traditions and come a long way toward modernizing. Leon is now home to some of the most environmentally-friendly and sustainable tanneries in the world, with leaders like Le Farc and Alfamex submitting their facilities to international audit and accreditation.
The quality of Leon’s leather naturally led to many talented shoemakers establishing factories in the same location. This being Mexico, cowboy boots were in high demand and became an early specialty for these craftsmen. Cowboy boots fit the needs for tough, everyday footwear that could be worn through rough terrain while still remaining comfortable. Those same boots needed to be reliable and last for years, which is why Leon-based bootmakers became experts at Goodyear Welt Construction as well, a method that made boots both resoleable and virtually waterproof. This focus on artisanal craftsmanship established Leon as one of the leading - and very possibly the best - overall city for producing high-quality boots of all different styles.
Leon built on its traditional strengths in leather and cowboy boots to evolve for the 21st century. What used to be the Mecca of rugged cowboy boots, now crafts everything from lace-up dress shoes and dress boots to technical combat boots. It also hosts two of the world’s largest footwear conventions every year. While the cost of producing in Leon is still substantially higher than China or other low-cost locales, the unique advantages in bootmaking and finer leather make this a natural choice for building great boots.