“It all started in Venezuela,” Carolina Aguerrevere says. “It was hard back then, even harder now, to find different and unique things to wear. … Venezuela is a really small country.”
Aguerrevere is a graphic designer and co-founder, with her husband Pablo Martínez, of Mexico-based Hot Chocolate Designs. They both fled Venezuela after they were threatened by the government for the political nature of some of their designs.
Aguerrevere says the company started because she wanted to customize a mary jane-style of shoe.
“I only could find them in solid colors like black, so I told Pablo, ‘I wish I could print these shoes,’” Aguerrevere says.
“Oh, let’s just try it!” Martínez told her.
And that’s how Hot Chocolate Design started.
“We made a pair for myself … which had a lot of cherries in one foot, and just one in the other. They complemented, but they were not exactly the same,” Aguerrevere says.
She says people responded enthusiastically upon seeing her shoes, and some asked if she could make a pair for them.
“It started like that: We were able to produce for maybe eight years,” Aguerrevere says. “The glue was impossible to find … it was so expensive. You buy like one liter of glue and the next one was double the price. And the next one, triple the price.”
But soon their designs became controversial. She and Martínez had wanted to make a statement about their political views, and made a pair of shoes in which one had the Venezuelan the flag and the other was all red. Then they took a photo of the red shoe stepping on the flag shoe and used it to promote their brand.
“That shoe became very, very important. People started buying them and wearing them to all the protests,” Aguerrevere says. “And then you started seeing all these pictures of people all over the world with the shoes. Somehow we felt like we did something.”
But that also drew the attention of Venezuelan officials.
“We started fearing for our lives, for our son’s life, our daughter’s life. I was pregnant with my daughter back then; we were very, very scared all the time,” Aguerrevere says.
The family eventually fled Venezuela for Mexico.
“We are really happy. They are always asking us to go back,” Aguerrevere says. “[But] how can I sell shoes in Venezuela when people are starving?”
Written by Brooke Reaves.