Over 200,000 people attended Tucson’s La Fiesta de los Vaqueros this February.
Amid the crowd, a woman with a skin-tight, all-denim outfit stands tall as she sipped her beer.
She is wearing leopard print cowboy boots with red leather that adorns her calves and a matching belt with a chunky white gold clasp.
“Those are some boots.”
“They are Osuna, they are custom made,” Jennifer Bedoya proudly says.
Esteban Osuna’s has been in the boot making business for 25 years. He works with his wife and her two brothers.
Osuna operates in the backyard of his home in the south of Tucson, just off the I-19 toward Nogales. Heavy-duty machines fill the back of the shed and boots that are in the progress of being built overflow the tables.
There are boots all of shapes and sizes.
Osuna’s wife, Christina Osuna dyes a pair of boots black as her husband answers phone calls on his Bluetooth. She has difficulty speaking English but she understands it well, Osuna explains.
Bright camel and turquoise boots with yellow and brown zigzag stitching are firmly placed on a table surrounded by sponges and masking tape, while a set of soles are set to the side, waiting to be attached to a boot.
“You pick everything from start to finish,” Osuna says.
Osuna first takes an outline of his customer’s foot to create a mold. He uses the mold throughout the whole process in order to make the boot accustomed to the they buyer’s foot.
After the mold is made, the customer picks out every component of the boot. They select the heal length, and how pointy the toe of their shoe should be. After they create a base design for the boot, they choose what type of animal skin, embroidery and the length of the wall of the boot.
Osuna uses animal skins from all over the world: South African ostrich, Spanish bull hide, Australian kangaroo and all of the other basic and raw materials are imported from Mexico.
These boots start at $550 and can get up to the thousands, Osuna says.
Osuna’s small business survives by word-of-mouth. He doesn’t have any extra advertising.
“We only make four boots a week,” Osuna says.
If a customer doesn’t like their boot, Osuna will put it up for sale and they will make them a new one.
Osuna’s small company resembles other custom-made boot manufacturers in the southwest like Paul Bond Boot Company located in Nogales, David Espinosa located in Phoenix and PK BootMaker in Prescott, Arizona.
All offer a one-of-a-kind boot with a large price tag.
“If you buy good boots and they fit you correctly, they are actually really comfortable,” says Othon Molina who is picking up a pair of boots to take to Colombia.
Molina’s camel-skin boots total out to be $700, a price worth paying since he has outgrown over 16 pairs of boots in the last 35 years.
He explains that he can get boots made in Mexico for a third of the price but durability is important when the boots are worn everyday. “You really have to find someone who does quality work, and his (Osuna’s) work is such high quality.”
Molina sits down and takes his existing riding boots off and tries on his new ones. He stands up and walks around the backyard.
The boots took a total of eight weeks, but there is still one more adjustment Osuna makes before Molina leaves.
“That’s the only boot in the world, if you want to duplicate it, you can’t,” Osuna says.
Britt Theodora is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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