By the 1960s, albarcas were worn by more than just farmhands or fishermen – they invaded Menorca’s towns and villages too – with a handful of locals making the sandals by hand. But as demand increased, island entrepreneurs saw an opportunity, and by mechanising much of the process they could increase production. Today many factories sell abarcas not only elsewhere in the Balearics, and mainland Spain, but also further afield, in France, Italy – even the USA, Japan or South Korea.
Today’s ‘rustic’ abarca – the original sandal – remains practically unchanged. With recycled tyres as a base, two pieces of beige-coloured leather are sewn to the flat sole. The piece at the front is attached using a hidden stitch, while the narrow strip that embraces the heel is folded over a piece of rubber to ensure it never loses its shape. While this, rustic abarca continues to be the most popular design, these Menorcan sandals have evolved considerably from their rural roots.
Nowadays, farmers still wear them – naturally – but so does everyone else. You’ll spot islanders carrying a worn-out pair to the beach, or popping on a pair for gardening, or using them around the house, or slipping on newer abarcas to go out for an informal meal. Children love them, too. Their durability is second to none – it’s common to hear manufacturers joking about how they wish they weren’t so sturdy, as they’d get more business!
But beyond the classic design, abarcas are a regular feature at shops, trade fairs and fashion shows, as they are available for all ages in every possible combination of colours, leathers and patterns imaginable. You can spot suede or sparkly ones; patent leather and animal prints; patterns of cheeky lizards or abarcas embedded with classy crystals; albarcas with heels for a night out or with non-slip soles for taking on boats – the variations are endless!
So how has this humble sandal gained such a following? It’s certainly not because of some intensive PR campaign. Menorca’s abarcas are an example how word of mouth is the best advertisement – and once someone’s tried a pair they don’t hesitate to recommend them. But if that’s not enough? Try flicking through any Spanish glossy magazine during the summer months for celebrity endorsements – from politicians to pop stars, basketball giants to actors – there’s no shortage of proof of how the popularity of abarcas has extended well beyond Menorca’s coastline. And the island’s best client of all? Well, without a doubt, it’s Spain’s Royal Family. Why not join them…?
There are several independent manufacturers of Menorcan sandals in Menorca with outlets all around the island. Prices for a good quality pair of adult abarcas start at around €30.
Photos courtesy of Riudavets Menorca. For more information, visit: www.riudavetsmenorca.com