I step into Otto’s home, a humble two-story house near the edge of La Limonada, one of the biggest urban slums in the entirety of Central America, found in the middle of Guatemala City. His house looks like so many others, the first floor dark and cramped, a single room with a bed and a glass case that houses a few items that makes up a tiny market for his neighbors to peruse. A small metal gate that provides limited security in one of the most dangerous slums in the world clangs closed behind me. Walls of concrete and a roof of corrugated metal keep the family safe from the elements outside: whether that be the weather or other things perhaps less harmless.
We make our way up the stairs, which are more like a series of steep wooden slats precariously attached to the wall, with no railing on the other side. Otto’s shoe workshop lives on the second level of his modest home. The floor up here is similar to the staircase. Holes peek through several of the boards, which are crudely attached to cross beams by nails and they creak and groan as we make our way across the floor.
‘Humility makes the man.’ In my opinion, that defines him.
Shoes are stacked around in neat rows on shelves scattered around the room. Vibrant patterns on brightly colored fabric are cut and strategically laid across pieces of leather. Sewn and placed across plastic molds, shoes take form across the small room, in various stages and varied colors.
Otto sits in a chair that likely had been used at a dining room table in earlier years. Shirtless and sweaty, he holds a shoe in its mold across his knee banging away at it with a hammer to secure the sole. His hands move deftly, with confidence only gained from years of experience. He holds the sole over the flame of a small burner, heating the glue and the sole to perfect the binding.
He has various tattoos across his body, the most recent on the top of his foot reading in Spanish, “Humility makes the man.” In my opinion, that defines him.
Otto is humble. His story is one that mirrors so many others. The stigma that covered his life was two-fold: first, he lived in a slum. Second, he was a gang member. Often, those two stigmas are intertwined because living in La Limonada often means gang involvement. Sometimes it comes from a desire of belonging or power. But more often it comes from necessity. If your address points to La Limonada, finding a job is nearly impossible. Gang life is pervasive and difficult to escape. It is not uncommon for people to be murdered for trying to leave, or committing suicide if no way out can be found.
His business may be making shoes, but it is not about shoes. It’s about hope.
But there are those who do escape. Otto is one of them. And with this change in life, came a change in heart. Otto is a visionary, he has a specific intention behind his business. His business may be making shoes, but it is not about shoes. It’s about hope. It’s about offering an escape, a way out, for those who found their lives on the same path that Otto veered off of. The shoes are so much more than something pretty. They’re a tool, a peaceful weapon against gang violence. A way of escape. They are intention.
Otto is partnering with The Root Collective to bring his shoes to a global market. Shoes that aren’t just about fashion. Shoes that can change lives, uplift a community, and provide escape. They’re a weapon against violence and a tool for hope. There are stories woven into the fabric and sealed with the glue on the soles. They are more than just shoes. They’re change. They’re a revolution.
Being intentional with how you spend your money can make all the difference to people like Otto. Intentionally spending in ways that can support and grow communities like La Limonada, in supporting companies that are conscious of their impact on workers and the environment. Intentionality can change things, because how we spend our money determines the kind of world that we want to live in.
That intentionality can make all the difference in the world. Especially to people like Otto.
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Offer available through December 31, 11:59 p.m. EST.