Spotlight on Willan Ulloa
Meet Willan, Nisolo's founding master shoemaker on the team in Peru.
Q: How did you get into shoemaking?
A: I started making shoes out of economic necessity. In the late 1980s, Peru was in the midst of an economic crisis. My family and I were deeply affected by it and had to migrate from our home in the Andes to Trujillo (one of Peru’s largest cities) in order to find work. My cousin taught me the ins and outs of shoemaking and I quickly discovered a passion in it.
Q: What part of the shoemaking process inspires you most?
A: I really enjoy the totality of the process, the seeing through a shoe from start to finish. There are many small details required to make a shoe of high quality and I love to focus on each part of the process and see it all come together.
Q: How would you describe yourself as an artist?
A: Shoemaking in itself a beautiful art form. Handcrafting shoes is my passion. I like to think there is no shoe that is impossible to make. It might take time to develop, but I have learned there are no limitations when you are passionate about your art.
Q: Do you see yourself as an artist?
A: Yes. More than anything else I see myself as an artist using my talent as a means of giving back to the community I live in. I want to serve the people I live with and teach them the art I have become passionate about so they can receive the same joy I have.
Q: How do you feel to be selling your products in the international marketplace?
A: For me, this has always been a dream. And I don’t think I would have been able to achieve it without meeting Patrick (Nisolo’s Co-Founder & CEO). As a person of faith, I believe this relationship and access to sell internationally is a blessing from the Lord. It is also a privilege to sell at such a big scale. We are pioneers in what we are doing. No one else in Trujillo (the city where Nisolo is based) is exporting shoes abroad. That said, we take joy in representing Peru and making beautiful products for people all over the world.
Q: Aside from shoemaking, what else makes you an entrepreneur?
A: When I am not working, I am serving as a pastor at a church in my community. I’m passionate about educating the upcoming generation, and have been working for many years to supply children with school materials through a ministry in my church. Our community has long been characterized as a place with high crime rates and high school dropouts, but through this ministry we are beginning to see lives changed and long-term impact.
Q: How would you describe the society and culture of El Porvenir (the area of Peru where Nisolo makes its shoes)?
A: El Porvenir is a unique community, but it does not offer many opportunities for work. Most people do not make a consistent income, and this makes it difficult for them to support their children through school. Since a lot of kids don’t make it through the school system, gangs have become common.
Q: What is impact Nisolo brings to the local community (El Porvenir)?
A: Nisolo is a fundamental part of the lives of its employees and their families. People involved with the company are being positively impacted in three major areas of their lives: economically, in their physical health, and the education their children are receiving as a result of a consistent income. Ever since its origins, Nisolo has been intentional about providing livelihood trainings and English classes to its employees. Everyone has benefitted a lot from these services.
Q: Who is someone you admire?
A: I will always admire Patrick. As a young person he had the drive and vision to start this company and impact the lives of many people. Apart from him, I admire my parents and family who have always been my motivation for doing what I do. They remind me they will always support me unconditionally.
Q: What is your favorite shoe you have ever made?
A: To date, the shoes I am most proud of are the ones I made for a contest recognizing the best shoe of El Porvenir in 2015. I made a few different models of chukka boots, oxfords, and flats, and we finished in 1st place. For me, this was a tremendous accomplishment.
Q: What are the best words of advice that someone has given you?
A: Never let someone rob you of your dream. If you protect your dream and follow it, it will come to be.