Welcome to Guatemala

Greetings from Guatemala! Antigua, Guatemala, to be more specific. I won’t judge you if you had to Google Antigua, Guatemala, but I will judge you if you aren’t at least contemplating a trip down here after Googling it. It feels like paradise.

I’m not just bragging about the subtropical weather, or the spectacular views that surround the city tucked in these highlands -- a view that, by the way, includes three dormant volcanoes. Or the Spanish colonial architecture that serves as the backdrop for the colorful upcycled American school buses riding along the cobblestone streets. Or the phenomenal food (shh, don’t tell my mom, but I think I officially prefer the Guatemalan version of enchiladas over the Mexican version that I grew up with). It’s all of these elements plus the friendly people that make this city a destination for expats and backpackers alike.  

But as Peter, Adelante’s founder, puts it: seeing the stark contrast between the haves and have-nots in paradise is unsettling. It’s a level of inequality that most people, when faced with it, would rather look away -- not out of malice but out of self preservation. The inequality can make you feel helpless and almost hopeless; it’s easier to console yourself by thinking “that is just the way things are”. But Adelante Shoe Company is not made up of most people.

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Pastores is a small town outside of Antigua with a main street lined by shoe shops; the quality of the craftsmanship here is locally renowned. There is so much pride in the craft of shoemaking in Pastores that a shoe monument is currently under construction. The soon to be completed shoe monument greets us every morning as we make the ten minute drive from the apartment in Antigua to the Adelante Shoe Co. office in Pastores.

On my first day at the office I was pleasantly struck by the smell of leather. The office is naturally lit by a bay window that takes up about two thirds of an entire wall.  In front of the window is a dining-sized picnic table made of light-colored wood with a bench to match. The table serves as the workspace for Lucia, the accountant, Jeanne, who is the customer success manager, and Rocio, director of Guatemala operations. At the bench on the wall adjacent to the bay window is Cesar, who single handedly makes up the logistics department. The office door leading outside is left open, and steps away is the craftsmen’s workshop. Sounds from their work -- hammering, sewing machines and the hum of the welting machine pour into the office along with the occasional street dog. Talk about unconventional office spaces.

What makes Adelante unconventional, more than just the workspace, is the drive behind this for-profit business. Yes, there is a passion for the shoemaking craft and a determination to deliver the best quality product possible, but this business was born out of a desire to be a socially responsible choice for consumers. In today’s current climate, it’s clear that more and more people are willing to hold artists and businesses accountable, to vote with their dollars. And yes, if you as a consumer rejected every single product that compromised the wellbeing of people or the environment than you would have to reject a whole lot of products ranging from the everyday necessities to the treat-yourself indulgences. However, Adelante is a step towards a world where businesses interested in both quality of product and life of the people who produce it are the conventional.

Written by Vanessa Rojano, Adelante's Storyteller In Residence