Arriving in Lima for the first time in over two years provided that giddy feeling kind of like when you’re about to walk into school on the first day. South America, and specifically Peru, never fail to provide an excitement and allure that is so impossible to replicate. The Spanish language, Inca Cola and Claro billboards, Mototaxi’s and cabs with no meters, overnight bus rides, and even Dunkin' Donuts at the airport were a few reminders that I was back.
In July, I had the privilege of visiting Trujillo, the Peruvian HQ of Nisolo, to check on production but more importantly, to meet Eliseo, Nisolo’s Peruvian manager, as well as the Nisolo artisans for the first time. While I had worked in microfinance within this community prior to the creation of Nisolo, I had not returned since 2010. Patrick and Zoe had told me all about each and every shoemaker, as we had been talking about them for well over a year. “Great to meet you,” I said, yet I was thinking “If you knew how much I’ve talked about you in the last year, we’d give one another a huge hug right now.” Needless to say, they lived up to everything I had heard about them, both in terms of their shoe making ability as well as the warmness they and their families exhibited.
Since I had previously lived, walked, and worked in the area for over a year, I know the community where the shoes are being made quite well. However, it was still somewhat of a revelation to actually see the process each shoe goes through before being shipped. From hailing taxis to and from the market, to picking up the abundance of materials, to each step in the process of the actual production, shoe making is quite an extensive undertaking. Personally, the appreciation for a handmade leather shoe was not maximized until I experienced, first hand, all that is embodied in hand crafting a shoe.
I could appreciate that while we have such a focus on developing a business here in the U.S., there is also a whole different (and obviously) vital part of the business unfolding in Peru. Just as progress is made here in Nashville, so evolves the progress of our producers in Peru. Along with growth comes the benefits of that progress. I was grateful to experience the presentation from Willan (one of our head shoemakers) on how he and his wife were able to expand the real estate of their shop by a few feet, something they were extremely proud of. Further satisfaction was provided when they told me that they are now working with 10 different shoemaking tools, 9 more than prior to working with Nisolo! While I saw a lot of need and room for continued growth, I also saw the progress that had already taken place. As they say in Spanish, “poco a poco,” or as we say inch by inch, we are starting to see what can take place when new talent is connected with demand.
Perhaps the presence of the Olympics right now is a prime example of what accompanies the connection of such skill. You have athletes from all around the world uniting in one spot to compete for the same medals. What incredibly vast backgrounds and upbringing these athletes have had, only to meet in the same city to battle side by side in the same competitions. There is a reason NBC crossed the $1 billion marker in advertising sales for the Olympics—because people want to watch their country compete, but furthermore enjoy the culmination of such diverse competition from literally all over the world. There is a oneness that rises above in the Olympics due to the connection of the world’s greatest physical talent. Seeing talent through a different lens in Trujillo, again reminded me of that uniting force we all want to be a part of in some capacity.
After arriving in Lima, and subsequently in Trujillo, I was reminded it can be easy to feel a disconnect of the “world” of Peru and the “world” of the U.S. It can be as if one doesn’t exist while you’re living and breathing in the other. Each pair of shoes is a subtle but effective reminder that we live in a world miraculously diverse but still very much interconnected. Just as the Olympics would not be what they are without the diversity of talent, Nisolo would not be what it is without the incredible talent of the skilled artisans with whom we work. My trip to Peru was a pristine reminder of this, and gave me much to look forward to as Nisolo, thankfully, has the opportunity to help slowly bridge the gap between our different worlds.
Thanks for listening,