Espadrilles are sandals made of canvas, with soles of varying heights decorated with rope. The sandals were first made over 600 years ago in Catalonia, but the name itself is French. It can get confusing, though, if you look for espadrilles in Canada, since this is the normal Quebec term for running or jogging shoes. The French name for the sandal comes from the Catalan word, espardenya, which referred to a tough grass used for weaving the ropes that form the bottom of the shoes. Today’s espadrilles may no longer use espardenya, and rope styling on the bottom may be glued to wooden, plastic, or rubber soles.
The early espadrilles were peasant made and worn by peasants. A small amount of canvas combined with a rope-work bottom was much cheaper than leather. Many featured a lace up component to keep the sandals firmly attached to the feet.
If we jump forward to modern days, espadrilles are popular summer sandals, mostly made for women in many countries. They’re particularly associated with casual summer wear, clothing for cruise ships, and for women who want a dressier but still comfortable sandal look in hot weather. Designers make a number of styles, which can get uncomfortable if the heel is very high, but there are many non-brand name espadrilles that are cheaply made and purchased.
The soles of modern espadrilles are usually wedges, with a gradual incline of the heel. You can find flat espadrilles or platform styles, too. Many are slip on or slide versions, but still others may feature ankle straps to keep the foot more secure. Though many of the variants, especially of less expensive brands, feature synthetic roping around the heels, a popular feature is the use of jute, a natural fiber, to make the roping. Jute espadrilles with cotton canvas tops are made in great number in Bangladesh where they may be exported to Europe and the US.
When jute is used, gluing the jute rope to the shoe sole can actually be a laborious process. They may be not only glued but also stitched, and many feature extra designs in the rope weave to provide a fancier shoe. Despite the more labor-intensive work required in the manufacture of espadrilles, they are often less expensive than other summer sandals, unless you want espadrilles with a designer name. Then, expense is approximately equal to other designer sandals.
Espadrilles / Alpargatas are normally casual flat, but sometimes high heeled shoes originating from the Pyrenees. They usually have a canvas or cotton fabric upper and a flexible sole made of rope or rubber material moulded to look like rope. The jute rope sole is the defining characteristic of an espadrille; the uppers vary widely in style. In Quebec, however, espadrille is the usual term for running shoes or sneakers.
The term espadrille is French and derives from the word in Occitan language, which comes from espardenya, in Catalan or espardeña in Spanish. In Catalan it meant a type of shoes made with espart, the Catalan name for esparto, a tough, wiry Mediterranean grass used in making rope
Espadrilles have been made in Pyrennean Catalonia and Occitania since the 14th century at least, and there are shops in the Basque country still in existence that have been making espadrilles for over a century. The oldest, most primitive form of espadrilles go as far back as 4000 years ago. Traditional espadrilles have a canvas upper with the toe and vamp cut in one piece, and seamed to the rope sole at the sides. Often they would have laces at the throat that would be wrapped around the ankle to hold the shoes securely in place. Traditional espadrilles are worn by both men and women.
Once peasant footwear, espadrilles have grown in popularity, especially in Catalonia and the Basque Country, where many men and women wear them during the spring and summer months. Designer espadrilles are now widely available. They are usually manufactured in Spain and South Asia. Modern espadrilles are predominantly for women, though some men's shoes are made in this style.
The soles of espadrilles may be flat, platform or wedge shaped, and can be made of natural fiber or synthetic fiber rope, or flexible synthetic materials cast to resemble rope. Uppers may be made from nearly any substance, and may have open or closed toes, open or closed backs, and can be slip-on or tied to the ankle with laces. Thousands of varieties of espadrilles can be found, from inexpensive bargain brands to high priced designer brands.
Espadrilles became fashionable in USA in the 1940s. Lauren Bacall's character in the 1948 movie Key Largo wore ankle-laced espadrilles. The style was revived in the 1980s, due to the success of Miami Vice—the shoe was worn by Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson). In 2013 at luxury shoe stores in New York City, a pair of espadrilles can cost nearly $500.
Only second to cotton in favor as a natural fiber, jute is increasingly used in the manufacture of espadrilles. The soles of espadrilles are now commonly made with jute rope or braid, which is favored because of its eco-friendliness compared to synthetic substances. The natural bright white color of jute is a major design feature of modern espadrilles.
Bangladesh is the producer of high quality jute, and has become a manufacturing centre for premium quality jute soles and complete espadrilles. Ninety percent of the world's total production of complete espadrilles, as well as jute soles, is now manufactured in Bangladesh, although some manufacturers in Spain, France, and Italy import jute soles from Bangladesh to finish espadrilles in those countries. Complete espadrilles are also manufactured in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Venezuela.
Jute soles typically include fully or partially vulcanized rubber beneath the jute fibre for long-lasting espadrille shoes. Sometimes crepe soles are used as out-soles. Jute braid soles might include heels made of wood or EVA foam.
The manufacture of espadrilles is generally more complex than that of sandals. The jute soles are the most critical part. The jute twines are first machine-braided. These braids are then manually formed into the shape of the sole and hydraulically pressed with heat to form the final shape, and completed with vertical stitching. These basic soles are then vulcanized underneath. EVA foam or wooden heels are glued in place and more jute braids are wrapped around it to complete the soles. Uppers of different styles are then built on the jute soles to complete the espadrille. Most traditional espadrilles made by hand come from La Rioja, Spain. They are widely distributed in France and Canada.
Assembling of a jute sole