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ORIGINS OF SHOE MAKING TRADE IN ALMANSA.

Until mid XIX Century, shoe making trade in Almansa was reduced to merely artisan activities in small communities.

Afterwards this artisan production started to develop in workshops. Shoes were made in small workshops in which appart from the Master there were a pair of officials and one apprentice. The production made in these workshops were destined to local self provision and later on its selling and commercialization in nearby towns  markets.  These workshops, through a process of auto accumulation would generate enough capital in order to create the first factories.

Back in those days “Almansa existed in a socioeconomic context characterized by a high level of property concentration in the hands of local aristocracy, an agriculture based economy ( mainly cereals ) and a working market of country laborers.  All these determines a very low life level and strong unemployment.”

This situation will be altered with the apparition and development of the shoe making trade that came to life as a result of different strategic factors in conjunction.:  The privileged geographical situation of the town in the axis of the communication ways linking Madrid with Valencia and Alicante ( reaffirmed in 1858 with the inauguration of the Madrid- Alicante railway that passed through Albacete and Almansa ), the existence of a large artisanal contingent highlighted by the shoe making production ( There were 150 shoe making artisans registered in 1887 ) , and the important role of the muleteers in commercializing the products ( 96 muleteers registered during the same year ).

Apart from the cooperation between these two factors above mentioned, we must not forget the importance of the role played by a potent family of merchants with a strong enterprise capacity: The Coloma family, being the first representative Antonio Coloma Gil whom in already in 1815 appears registered as a shoe making artisan.

Francisco Coloma, son of the above mentioned Antonio Coloma, was the owner of a tanned leather shop until 1890-91 and in 1894 he appears in the book of industrial registrations as shoe maker. During the same year three more shoe makers are registered. These shoe makers would be the predecessors of later important industries.

On April 16 1899 Francisco Coloma dies and a society named Hijos de Francisco Coloma, formed by his three sons, takes over. One of the sons: Aniceto Coloma is appointed manager. He was the true launcher of the company, showing himself as an entrepreneur with very innovative ideas and a great futuristic vision.

In 1904 there are already four shoe making production centers with certain relevance: Hijos de Francisco Coloma, Juan Arráez Gómez, Sánchez Hermanos y Cía. y Joaquín Alcocel y Cía. The shoe production in Almansa during that year was estimated in 87.000 pair units ascending to 1.360.000 pair units in 1906.

“Almansa existed in a socioeconomic context characterized by a high level of property concentration in the hands of local aristocracy, an agriculture based economy (mainly cereals) and a working market of country laborers.”

From 1907 Coloma’s company starts a progressive mechanization process provided by the United Shoe Machinery Company. This process will last several years until it’s total implementation thus becoming the company with the biggest production in Spain in 1912, producing 1.800 pair units daily.

Up to the First World War, production was exclusively orientated to the national market. The situation during the war years was used as an advantage to open the market internationally towards countries involved in the conflict, principally France. During this period of time, production was focused around the making of the military boot. As a result, the Coloma company became the first shoe export company, and it’s production capacity raised by a 75%between 1913 and 1918.

During the times of the Great War, the mechanization process extended itself to the rest of the existent factories, which experienced a great level of dynamism ever since.
The decade of the 1920’s represents the consolidation of Hijos de Francisco Coloma y Cía, which after the war experiments a great international expansion as it continues to export shoes to the French market. In 1926 it has 1.150 workers.

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“In 1904 there are already four shoe making production centers with certain relevance: Hijos de Francisco Coloma, Juan Arráez Gómez, Sánchez Hermanos y Cía. y Joaquín Alcocel y Cía. The shoe production in Almansa during that year was estimated in 87.000 pair units ascending to 1.360.000 pair units in 1906.”

By 1928 there are 14 shoe making factories in Almansa with a total of 1.537 workers . One of them, Andrés Sendra ( founded in 1913-1914 ) still remains active today and back in 1928 had 80 workers.

Eight years later, the Civil War and the subsequent postwar suppose a large halt in the development of industry in general, affecting very negatively the local shoe making industry. The most affected of all is Calzados Coloma, S.A., that due to the economical situation and the political views of their owners, totally opposed to those of franquism, made the company issue bankruptcy and closing definitively in 1954.
Due to the closure of Calzados Coloma, which had 600 workers in its line, a strong migration movement takes place with workers moving towards the shoe making cities of the south east most importantly Elda and Elche, and any emerging of new companies is neglected until the beginning of the 1960’s.

During the 1960’s the shoe making industry in Almansa reappears due to the effort of a great number of small factories started by unemployed workers of bigger companies that had issued bankruptcy years earlier. The progression of registered companies goes from 15 in 1955,  through 24 in 1960 up to 51 in 1970. Two technical aspects will allow this new arousal of the industry: The incorporation of the technique of gluing, more flexible and quicker, and the incorporation of production chains in the factories.  Both advances produced an increment of productivity that was very necessary for the opening of external markets.

The important production changes that took place during the 1970’s, made specialization and industrial flexibility the fundamental argument in order to keep competing in the trade. In this  evolving procedure the auxiliary industry was developed , consequence of the decentralization of the different stages of the  production procedure.

At the end of the 1970’s a new wave of economical and commercial difficulties ( crisis of 1973, new custom barriers in traditional markets and the appearing of new countries with cheaper production costs such as Brazil ) carry with them a profound crisis that takes its toll fundamentally in the shoe making industry at both local and national level. Between 1978 and 1983 there is a great number of company closures and strong contraction of employment.

Symptoms of recovery are not to be seen until 1983. Its recovery is due fundamentally by the new expansion of exports. The increment between 1982 and 1988 is that of a 61% in number of pair units and 44% in value.  The entering in the EU from 1985 had a decisive importance both for our industry and the general economy of the country. By 1989 there are 177 registered companies , 95 of which are shoe making factories and 82 auxiliary companies which gave employment to a total of 3.008 workers.

“During the 1960’s the shoe making industry in Almansa reappears due to the effort of a great number of small factories started by unemployed workers of bigger companies that had issued bankruptcy years earlier. The progression of registered companies goes from 15 in 1955,  through 24 in 1960 up to 51 in 1970.”

In 1980 the lowest export rate towards the principal clients U.SA, Germany and France was not surpassed due to the introduction of our shoe products in alternative markets.  The recovery of sales comes from the expansion of these same markets, of which we became dependent during many years.

The primordial production orientation continues to be, as it is tradition, the mid to high quality gentleman’s shoe, making a differentiation depending on the markets to which is directed.
During the 1990’s the situation of shoe making industry in Almansa suffers a new blow. The period starts with 225 companies and 3.424 workers. By the end of the period there are 186 companies and 2.927 workers. During these years we face the First Gulf War, which although being short, had great influence in the world’s economical situation, creating a great instability with high interest rates and large inflation, restriction of credits and a great recession.

All this affected greatly all the buying countries and of course our own. 1995 marks the beginning of some recovery , but this is very weak, as the number of companies and employments do not recover. We must also highlight the importance of imports of shoe products from countries with cheaper production and labor costs with prices so low that makes it impossible to compete.

On that note we begin the XXI century, in which the tendency of imports raises specially from 2001, with China entering the WTO. Imports  in the year 2000 where an estimate of 80 million of pair units , whilst in 2013 they reached 329 million. The growth during this 13 years increased in a 411%.. The average prices during this last year were 6,29 euros per pair unit. The most relevant providers are China, Vietnam, Portugal, Italy, Indonesia, India and Brazil, with China representing the 72% of the total, which supposes around 238 million of pair units with a value of 781 million euros at an average price of 3,28 Euro per pair unit.

This already severe situation worsens even more from 2007-2008 due to the great economic crisis that we are still suffering nowadays, and which has affected the entire occidental world. In the case of our country the situation has worsen after the explosion of the so called “estate agent bubble” which have led to a desolated panorama with very high levels of unemployment, low rents, high taxes, non existent credit for families and companies and therefore a huge recession in all levels.

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“On that note we begin the XXI century, in which the tendency of imports raises specially from 2001, with China entering the WTO. Imports  in the year 2000 where an estimate of 80 million of pair units , whilst in 2013 they reached 329 million.”

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This situation has had important negative influences in all markets with which local and national shoe making industry work. As a consequence, we suffered a great destruction of companies and employments. At a national level, from the year 2000 to 2013 1.397 companies and 17.974 jobs have been destroyed. In Almansa there were 98 companies and 893 jobs. At the present time there are 62 companies registered between shoe making factories and auxiliary industry and around 2200 workers.

From the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 the situation starts to become somehow stable. Even though no significant employment or new companies are created the destruction of both is stopped . All of this is due to the vigor of exports that compensated hugely the decease of national sales which is in clear recession.  Today in Almansa we have a much smaller industry than 13 years ago, however this is more solid with more stable and solvent companies  also bigger in size, which knew how to adapt and place themselves in various markets betting on quality , promotion of the product and brand and constant design innovation.

Shoe makers from Almansa and other parts of Spain have gone through countless stages of both growth and crisis through out history. This has made them mature and achieve a great degree of experience with a very clear export vocation. Since the birth of the first artisan workshops to the actual situation, this town lives around the production and elaboration of shoes.

There are very many names of persons that have passed through out the history of this trade, but some of them have passed with special relevance. We will not mention them in order to avoid forgetting any of their names, due to the fact that they are a numerous group. We will only allow ourselves to mention the Coloma family, undoubted precursors of our trade.

To all of them, our most sincere recognition and gratitude for everything they have transmitted us.

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