Sunday, 8 October 2023, 07:48
Calle El Fuerte in Marbella houses a business with a long history. Customers from all over the world have passed through the store, at number two of this street, including some famous faces. They are all looking for a pair of loafers handmade by artisan Manuel Vera who, now 73, continues to make customised shoes after a lifetime dedicated to the craft.
“I don’t know when I’ll retire, I have to find a replacement. There is no shortage of work here,” said Vera, who is originally from Cadiz, but came to Marbella nearly 40 years ago to learn from shoemaker Pepe Valderrama and has followed in his path to this day.
Before moving to the town, Vera already had experience in the world of shoemaking. In his native town of Alcalá de los Gazules he learned the trade as a child, in particular how to make farm boots.
When he arrived on the Costa del Sol, he focused on Valderrama’s star product: leather loafers. “When [customers] order new pairs from me, they know they will have to wait a while. It is a handcrafting process and I have many orders pending,” said the shoemaker, who is also the sales assistant for the shop.
In Vera’s workshop, where he also receives customers, there are numerous shelves on show, all full of shoes, both new and used.
“In addition to all the orders, many clients come to me with repair requests,” he said, pointing to the section where he keeps all the pairs awaiting repair.
“Some lifelong customers ask me to repair shoes that I made for them 20 years ago. Very often it is more expensive than ordering new ones, but they tell me that the shoes are so comfortable that they don’t want to change them,” Vera explained.
Although this shop for handcrafted shoes is known as Mocasines Marbella, the label on each pair bears the name Mocasines Pepe, as a tribute to the previous owner and master shoemaker who taught Vera.
The story of these exclusive shoes with Marbella on the label began with craftsman Juan Rivera, who worked with his brother-in-law Pepe Valderrama for years in their hand-made shoe manufacturing and repair workshop in Plaza África. In the 1970s, Valderrama decided to create his own business, later passing on all his acquired knowledge to Vera. When the shoemaker retired in the 90s, his pupil took over the workshop.
Amid sewing machines, cutters, hammers, tweezers and leathers, Vera carefully creates exclusive, unique footwear, custom-made for each client.
The first job is to work the raw material: the leather is cut and moulded to a specific shape. After sewing all the pieces of the shoe by hand, the shoe must be left to dry for a day, “sometimes even two”.
Then the sole is attached and the upper part of the loafer is finished off. “The process is completely done by hand; I only use certain machinery for specific tasks,” said Vera. The time invested in creating shoes may vary. Vera does not offer exact times: “I don’t know how long it takes me to make a pair of loafers. There are many hours of work,” he said.
The customer can choose all the elements of the shoe: the most popular leathers are goat, calf and cow, especially in classic tones such as brown, black or beige. Another detail that is frequently requested is the date the shoe was created, a detail that Vera adds in his own handwriting when the design is complete. Summer is the busiest time of the year for the shop. “When they are regular buyers, I don’t need to take measurements, so they order more shoes by phone.”
So how much does a pair of custom-made loafers cost? The base price is 270 euros and varies depending on the type of leather used.
Its long history in Marbella and its exclusivity have added well-known faces to the business’s list of customers throughout its 40-plus years of trading.
Famous people such as Bertín Osborne and Julio Iglesias, as well as “very important” people whom Vera prefers to keep secret.
“Customers come from all over Spain, and also overseas customers from countries like England or Germany. Sometimes entire families have come and ordered five or six pairs of shoes from me,” he explained.
The secret of his success has nothing to do with social media: word of mouth is all the marketing he needs. With no website or active profiles on Facebook or Instagram, Mocasines Marbella receives orders throughout the year. A small card with the customer’s main details and foot measurements is the only record that the craftsman needs to prepare his orders. “I come to the workshop from Monday to Sunday. I don’t open the shop to the public at the weekend, I just spend that time making loafers.”
Now, at 73 years old, one of the town’s most experienced artisans is thinking about “enjoying” retirement with his family after a lifetime of work.
He hopes to find a replacement “soon” so that the legacy that passed on to him can continue for many more years in Marbella.
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