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Ese Carnalby

You don't need to be told anymore that there are a multitude of prolific and creative apparel designers in Portland. But one thing you see very few of are shoe designers. In fact, Donovan Skirvin, the designer behind a line of locally handmade, custom shoes called Ese Carnal, is pretty much the only game in town (For what it's worth, Skirvin knows of "a cowboy boot manufacturer in Scappoose, and some guy that makes stiletto heeled shoes for strippers. Rick at Oregon Leather has shown me some incredible boots that he's made. I won't count myself as being superior to these, but goddamn if I'm not in a different place."). Luckily he's flexible, can make any type of shoe (even vegan, although leather is the norm), and they are built to last (he even offers a lifetime sole warranty).

Inspired by "class struggle, Nazis, and the early part of the 20th century," Skirvin's influences are readily apparent in his designs, some of which seem torn from the pages of history.

"I make shoes that should last forever with a relative amount of maintenance," says Skirvin. "I make any kind of shoe. But, as a rule... a flat, a slide, an ankle boot, a boot boot, and something sporty to lace up, and something dressy to lace up—one of each per season."

Born into a poor family and parented by "two highly motivated DIY types," Skirvin grew up making his own clothes, furniture, and Super 8 films. "One day, I wanted a pair of shoes that apparently did not exist," he remembers, thus beginning his career as a shoemaker—a daunting trade to learn (which helps explain the dearth of such craftspeople in even this, the most creative of towns)—it took him a year to make his first pair of what he deemed to be satisfactory shoes.

Of the name Ese Carnal, Skirvin explains, "Ese carnal literally means 'this meat.' I grew up in a pretty violent California city, which eventually got a screwdriver stuck in my back. So, I knew a lot of Mexican gangsters. Ese carnal is a Spanish gangster slang term that sort of means 'blood brother.' Or, 'this one who is so close to me, that they are of my flesh.' I also have worked in many restaurants with a lot of Guatemalans and Mexicans. I always had the fantasy of starting this company, and going back to hire all of my Guatemalan and Mexican friends... to pay them a wage worthy of their greatness."

(Ese Carnal shoes are currently available by custom order through esecarnal.com)This meat: marjorie@portlandmercury.com

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