The Lloseta Shoe Fair. | JUANJO ROIG

The characterisation of the Mallorca of centuries past as an economy of agrarian feudalism ignores the island’s manufacturing. This was not controlled by landowning nobility but by guilds. These were the brotherhoods, who were to compete for political favour and power with each other but who also had their clashes with the nobility, most notoriously the Germanies Revolt of 1521. A leader of the rebels was a member of the hat makers guild.

The competition between the brotherhoods owed a good deal to who dominated what we would now refer to as the supply chain. The fortunes of two brotherhoods demonstrate how power shifted over time. They were both involved with one manufacturing sector - leather goods - and they were the tanners and the shoemakers.

In the fifteenth century, the balance of power between these two guilds was such that the tanners were the rich and the shoemakers the poor. The tanners were the dominant force because they successfully managed to limit the import of hides. They had also established sizeable tanneries, which was in marked contrast to how things had been prior to the Catalan conquest of 1229. Muslim artisans had worked cooperatively and equally.

A stand at the Lloseta Shoe Fair
A stand at the Lloseta Shoe Fair.

The shoemakers guild was large but it didn’t have the power, so it made every effort it could in pressing for the free import of hides and the breaking of the tanners’ monopoly. In the late sixteenth century, this pressure told. There was a ruling in favour of the shoemakers. Raw material started to arrive from the Americas, while the balance was moving to such an extent that the shoemakers were able to build their own tannery. They started to employ master tanners. The reversal of fortunes was complete by the start of the eighteenth century.

It was a form of market liberalisation and it had a beneficial impact for the island’s economy. Shoemaker incentive had grown, and so production grew. A sector which had mainly supplied the island now had its sights across the sea. The story of how Mallorca came to have an important footwear industry can be traced back to that ending of the tanners’ monopoly.

Come forward to the start of the twentieth century, and some 14% of Mallorca’s manufacturing was footwear and leather goods. The sector had grown by over five per cent during the second half of the nineteenth century and was to later grow so significantly that by the 1970s it represented a third of all the island’s manufacturing. It was spectacular growth, and it was growth that witnessed a different shift. The footwear sector was no longer predominantly based in Palma. It had moved to the Raiguer region - to Inca, Lloseta, Consell, Binissalem.

The Footwear Museum in Inca (Avda. General Luque 223) is open daily; different opening hours apply
The Footwear Museum in Inca (Avda. General Luque 223) is open daily; different opening hours apply.

The arrival of the railway in 1875 is one reason why there was a movement. Around that time, there was only one tannery in Inca and nowhere else in the Raiguer region. In Palma, there were 22, so transport of raw material was facilitated. By the same token, Palma became attractive to workers in the sector, as the wages were higher.

The shoemakers of the late nineteenth century were in fact the best paid workers in Mallorca, but even so, they weren’t that well paid. And price competitiveness was to be a reason why wages were in effect decreased in the early years of the twentieth century. Another reason was the impact of the loss of Cuba in 1898. The island’s footwear industry had become increasingly reliant on exports to Cuba, though how large this export trade actually was is obscured by the existence of the black economy. Mallorca’s footwear manufacturers did what they could to ease their tax burdens.

The opening of the railway coincided with the introduction of improved means of production in the Raiguer region. In 1877, an Inca footwear entrepreneur, Antonio Fluxà, went to England to learn about new methods of manufacture. It was to be almost a hundred years later (1975) that Camper was truly established, but one of its marks does state ‘Camper, Boots & Shoes, 1877’. Lottusse is another Fluxà company that can point to its founding having been in 1877.

The disruption of the Cuba export market was overcome by the First World War. Again, it is not possible to get an accurate picture of how valuable export supplies of boots, especially to the French army, really were. Trade figures don’t include what was smuggled. But the war provided a major boost for Mallorca’s footwear sector and helped with its expansion away from Palma. If Inca was the ‘capital’ in the Raiguer region, Lloseta was growing with its larger neighbour.

The footwear industry in Lloseta had begun rather humbly at the end of the nineteenth century, but by the 1930s it was the principal industry in the municipality. However, by contrast with Inca, where the Fluxà family had pursued mechanisation and modern production techniques, Lloseta’s remained mostly a cottage industry.

The Civil War gave another boost - supplies to Franco’s Nationalists - but the aftermath did not. Franco’s autarky saw to this. There was lack of investment which meant that Lloseta didn’t have a single mechanised workshop by 1950. Nevertheless, this period gave birth to one of the great names of Mallorca’s footwear industry - Bestard, known for its excellent range of mountain boots - and by the 1960s, with the autarkic economic system having been dismantled, export markets beckoned. Mallorca’s footwear industry was now definitively on a firm footing.