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Tags: Simple shoes with a social conscience fit just right

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Claire Tyrpak
Claire Tyrpak
Claire Tyrpak retired to Mérida in 2021 after a career managing programs for nonprofits, government and a university in the United States. She has been a world traveler since the 1980s and Mexico is the fifth country in which she has lived.
Tags owners: Mauricio Santillán Mathelin and Abiff Ortiz Magaña. Photo: Claire Tyrpak / Yucatán Magazine

An unassuming corner shop located in the heart of the city sells comfortable, locally made alpargatas — the Spanish term for espadrilles — in a wide variety of designs and styles.

Tags has been in business for seven years in the same location, selling simple but sophisticated footwear all produced locally.

Their main style is the classic espadrille done in a traditional Mayan style. They are produced in an incredible number of colors and attractive patterns.

The project began a year before the store opened and is the brainchild of two good friends from other parts of Mexico who met at university in Mérida. Mauricio Santillán Mathelin came to Mérida with his mother 20 years ago while he was in high school. He met Abiff Ortiz Magaña, who is from Chetumal, at Universidad Modelo while both were studying product/industrial design. 

Santillán originally thought he would do industrial design or perhaps furniture design. Every Friday, the two men traveled the Yucatán going to markets while they were developing their project during the year they did their social service after their university studies. The government owns shops that work with the Mayan community, so they visited the families that made hats, henequin, clothing, and jewelry. One of the teams Santillán led decided to focus on making shoes. They first took their shoes to sell at a shopping mall.

Tags sells its handmade shoes in Mérida. Photo: Claire Tyrpak

Starting out with 1,200 pesos between them, the friends decided on canvas shoes because it was a trend at the time and were easy to produce.

They wanted to make theirs more universal with an array of colorful fabric designs. They work exclusively with the Palomar family from Hunucmá. Santillán and Ortiz create the designs in fabric and the family makes the shoes. Doña Rosaria took over from her husband Francisco when he died in 2020. When she needs help with the work, she hires only local women.

Tags in Mérida keeps it simple. Photo: Claire Tyrpak

Around 80% of Tags’ customers are expats and foreigners. In addition to their shop in Mérida, they also have one in France and they have online sales in Germany and Switzerland. Before the pandemic, they sold on average 400 pairs per month. As of now, after pandemic lockdowns, sales are about half that.

Tags strives to be inclusive with the business both through their pricing and by involving the Mayan community. Plain Tags are 290 pesos, shoes with their specialty designs are 320. They also have sandals for 220 pesos. Boots and mules are also available.

Tags shoes can be colorful or subdued. Photo: Claire Tyrpak

All are vegan-friendly with henequin fiber used on the soles, and no leather. Solid colors are a cotton blend and the patterns are a light polyester to ensure durability. Their most popular designs are the Huichol beaded pattern, the multicolored striped serape, and tropical motifs. They have some clever seasonal designs for Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos with the appropriate pumpkins and skulls respectively.

Tags’ shoes can be custom ordered if you can wait a week. The store, at Calle 49 and 58, Centro, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 12 to 6 p.m., and Sunday during Biciruta from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. They can be found on Facebook and Instagram. WhatsApp: 999-901-1917.

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