2011, Santiago, Chile:
It was a small article in Chile's El Mercurio newspaper that led me to the address, a 40's-style two-story home, surrounded by behemoth 25-story modern apartments. I peered through the steel bars of the perimeter fence and through the foliage of the surrounding trees and spotted what appeared to be the curves of a 50's Bel-Air Chevy, sitting idle under a dust-covered tarp in the open garage.
I was buzzed in at the gate and proceeded toward the home's front door, where I was firmly welcomed by a guy my age, introducing himself as Jaime. He showed me to the living room, an open space with a parquet floor, antique wooden furniture and a pair of inviting and well-lived-in sofas. As I walked past the furniture I glanced at a few dozen brown shoeboxes in the corner and toward the windows illuminating the room with soft natural light. I stepped to the center of the room and my eyes settled on what I had come for, there resting on the coffee table -- four styles of leather shoes and boots.
I stepped closer, picked up a shoe and studied it in my hand -- simple, handsome, rich leather, finely sewed. A nice weight, not too heavy. I went to the next pair, again the same sensation of quality and honor in its construction. I turned back to my host, curious to know more about the story behind the footwear in front of me. "What can you tell me about these, how do they compare to other shoes in the market?" I asked in Spanish. I held my gaze in preparation for a heartfelt explanation of leather quality, the shoemaking trade, design inspiration and how the items in front of me were the result of hard work, vision, and skill.
My question was met with a silent shrug.
Puzzled, I returned my gaze to the shoes. I then tried on a pair of oxfords and, following Jaime's instructions, paid him to place my order, to be ready in 10 days.
I later picked up that pair, wore them faithfully through Santiago's paved streets and dusty parks, and followed Jaime's work from a distance, curious about the guy I had met and what he was up to with these shoes.
In the years following that initial meeting with Jaime, after becoming his business partner and joining him in this venture - working to build a few modest retail stores, the hundreds of meetings over coffee, the countless visits to the workshop, the trips within Chile and to the US - I've learned a bit more about what was really contained in that shrug he gave me when we first met.
I've learned that there's a beauty and dignity in removing the unnecessary - like when admiring the wall of the Andes mountains rising from the streets of Santiago, no explanation of their magnificence is required, it is simply understood. I've learned that sometimes the best explanation is no explanation at all.
To Jaime, outwardly, SITRANA is simply a brand of shoes. Good shoes.
To me, SITRANA is much more. It's about crafting beautiful pieces of work using a trade and artform that is slowly becoming extinct. It's about showcasing the art and skill of real people from a mostly-unknown, yet curiously exotic corner of the world. It's about quality, honor, modesty, and the human experience. It's about starting from nothing, and over time -- with skill, dedication and desire -- creating something of functional beauty.
But a part of me shares Jaime's view. That SITRANA, at its core, is simply a brand of shoes. Good shoes.