Vanessa Arroyo is a Chicago based shoe designer and owner of the new SERES Footwear company. A self motivator, she learned the hustle from her family through weekend trips to Chicago flea markets as a kid where she saw the power of community from her seres queridos, and an introduction to a lifestyle and culture that would shape her Chicana identity.
SERES Footwear is a slow fashion company with a collection of contemporary shoes that prides itself on sustainable practices that reduce waste, promotes fair labor and ethical working conditions.
Vanessa has spent many years honing her skills as a shoe designer and producer. In 2016, while working in New York City, she came to a stark realization of the exclusivity and wasteful environment of the fashion industry. She began to muse about an industry that could champion sustainable practices and put a spotlight on her heritage as a Mexican American. It was a personal mission to disrupt the industry. To this end, she dropped everything behind and moved to the capital of premium leather and master zapateros, León Guanajuato, México.
While in León, Vanessa was an apprentice to shoemakers who taught her the difficult and tedious process of producing shoes with her hands.
“We used no machines. We’d have calloused fingers but they were like - ‘this is how we fucking make shoes, we sew with our hands. The tools that we use are two needles and knives. No scissors are allowed.”
This was an opportunity for Vanessa to master her skills: learn the intricate processes in handmade shoe production, meet the people behind her mission and deepen her connection to the land and materials. Something she couldn’t do in NYC.
“The fashion industry - as we know it, is a demanding environment where everything takes priority. It’s exhilarating at first but that feeling quickly fades. People fuss over the silliest things, very egotistical. A lot of hard work doesn’t make the cut. This generates so much waste. It’s working with very privileged people, gatekeepers, where you get to a point and say– this sucks.”
In México on the contrary, the shoe producers honored their materials, the leather, the animal, tools and the work that they’d use to make shoes.
“They would tell you where the animal was from, ‘este animal era del rancho de Don fulano,’ and language like ‘el animal se sacrificó’ made me realize a tradition of respect for the animals. I saw this culture in the talleres (workshops) and tanneries.
A core belief in SERES is to honor all of the beings involved in our mission from people, ancestors, animals and nature. Our “Seres queridos.”
Vanessa’s time in León also served for self-reflection and discovery. She found herself challenged by the phrase “Ni de aquí, ni de allá.”
“Ni de aquí y ni de allá is a reminder that my identity was denied from me my whole life. People tell you that you are not “American enough” or “Mexican enough” so much that you start to believe it! Now, me vale. Soy tan mexicana como soy del gabacho. This theme of exclusivity is something I experienced too often working in fashion. The industry upholds unrealistic standards, with few groups of people making decisions for global fashion. We are starting to see a shift and many independent designers are doing their thing. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
The latine identity is fully embraced in SERES promotional materials as models walk through Chicago neighborhoods playfully pushing Paleta carts and shopping from street vendors. All this, while a cool funky Disco House sample plays in the background.
Learn more about SERES Footwear and Vanessa Arroyo at seresfootwear.com
Follow SERES Footwear on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/seresfootwear/