From Craft Markets to Global Recognition: The Inspiring Journey of Espiritu’s Co-Founders.

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Oscar Yapor and Francisco Alvarez of ESPIRITU (Courtesy)

Have you ever wondered, what is behind your footwear of choice? In most cases, brands fail to make an impression in the fast-paced world of fashion, but every once in a while a new vision challenges the status quo, changing the creative landscape for the better.

When friendship and entrepreneurship converge anything is possible; If you add cultural heritage, tireless work and unwavering determination, you have a winning recipe.

For childhood friends Oscar Yapor and Francisco Alvarez, stumbling upon what would become one of the most impactful fashion trends of our generation was as effortless as their love for their country and their culture.

“For most of our lives, we’ve dealt with similar adversities. We grew up together and somehow, we’ve continued to grow up together in similar situations. I think one of the obstacles we’ve faced was giving up our already successful careers to venture into something we knew absolutely nothing about.” – Francisco and Oscar express.

Francisco, an architect residing in Mexico City, fuels the creative heart of Espiritu. He guides the brand’s artistic vision, public relations, product development, and store designs. Meanwhile, Oscar, an industrial engineer based in Los Angeles, fortifies the brand’s backbone, managing manufacturing, logistics, finance, and business development. This partnership might seem unconventional, given their diverse professional backgrounds, but a mutual fascination with fashion and a transformative trip to central Mexico sparked a collaboration that neither of them initially envisioned.

“While we drove around in the states of Jalisco and Michoacan, we encountered an artisanal market where local artisans were selling their products. Being fans of artisanal products, we decided to stop and have a look. Standing out from the vendors was a woman selling the most beautiful handmade huarache sandals, she and 9 of her artisan friends were making these huaraches from their homes in an attempt to improve their livelihood and offer their children a better lifestyle. We loved the project and their product so we ended up buying multiple pairs from them.” – The two friends recall.

Upon their return to Denver, their new huaraches became a magnet for compliments and queries. The scarcity of these handmade huaraches online and in physical stores sparked an entrepreneurial idea. Recognizing an untapped opportunity, Francisco and Oscar contacted the artisans they had met, ultimately leading to Espiritu’s inception. Initially, they decided to sell these huaraches at Denver’s craft and farmers markets, balancing this with their corporate jobs.

This leap of faith reaped unexpected rewards. The community’s response was overwhelmingly positive, encouraging them to quit their jobs, move to LA and Mexico City, and plunge full-time into their burgeoning venture. Today, the demand for a pair of Espiritu’s has grown to a point where the brand is now carried in over 130 stores across the USA, with an e-commerce platform that’s sold over 50,000 pairs of huarache sandals worldwide. This success story has enabled the young and tenacious fashion entrepreneurs to employ and support many more artisans and their families, while ensuring that the craftsmanship behind their coveted huaraches remains authentic.

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But their journey hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Leaving the comfort of established careers, juggling multiple roles, and sacrificing leisurely weekends for their entrepreneurial venture was tough.

“We’ve gone through 2 recessions and the pandemic since we opened our business and we’re still around and growing. It’s funny to realize that “business as usual” for us has been of this type.” – Oscar says.

Each friend’s unique personality traits have also significantly contributed to their success. Francisco’s creativity, originality, and humility have brought consistency to the brand. Oscar’s attention to detail, organizational skills, and inspiring leadership have ensured smooth operations. But far beyond the love of culture and aesthetics, Espiritu is a brand that is committed to sustainability, one of the most recent steps that Francisco and Oscar have taken in this direction has been to incorporate sustainable materials in their products and recycle IV bags into soles, in an unprecedented effort.

Their impact in the fashion world has not gone unnoticed, with trendsetters and tastemakers rallying behind Espiritu on social media and IRL (in real life) but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and ultimately, it has been the spirit of friendship that has kept the brand alive:

“We never gave up because we were each motivated, and continue to motivate each other. We expect the very best from one another and we also see each other as brothers, we don’t want to let each other down.” – Francisco affirmed.

Beyond watching the love for their huaraches grow and expand amongst the “cool crowd” and the everyday consumer alike, the most gratifying part of their journey has been their positive impact on the artisanal community. From nine artisans in 2018, they now collaborate with 247. As they look to the future, Francisco is crafting a new line for Espiritu and designing their flagship store in Mexico City, while Oscar is introducing lean manufacturing practices and venturing into new markets.

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