Sbicca Shoe Factory

Based on Chapter 12 in East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte and South El Monte Arts Posse’s “East of East” archive.

Text and archival material curated by: Natalia Brazao-Cartas. 


A photograph showing author Adam Goodman in front of Sbicca Shoes, in South El Monte.

Glamour, excellent craftsmanship and a reference in fashion: these are some of the qualities commonly attributed to Sbicca Shoes. The company was founded in 1920 by Ernesta and Frank Sbicca, who had left Italy for the United States and settled in Philadelphia in the late 1900s. Despite the difficulties imposed by the Great Depression, the couple was able to grow their business and at one time employ more than 600 workers, before making its way to the West Coast in 1945, when the Sbicca of California was born.

The second Sbicca factory, opened in Los Angeles and subsequently relocated to South El Monte, employed seventy-five people and produced 500 pairs of shoes a day. Business was thriving: with a unique Bohemian style that combined jute, rope, and bright colors in hippy-style wedges, Sbicca made it to the news and was featured in several media outlets that included the Los Angeles Times as well as magazines such as Glamor, Seventeen and Charm.


Leaflet showing one of Sbicca’s collections trending in the early 1970s, Melva.

In addition to being a symbol of excellent craftsmanship and trendy design, Sbicca also represented a clash of realities, as explained in Adam Goodman’s chapter for East of East.

The glamour of its products, ever so present in ads and national fairs, was a stark contrast to the lives of the many documented and undocumented Mexican workers who were, in the 1970s, making more than a million pairs of women's shoes each year. Unlike the Sbicca family, who had the opportunity to start their own business and see it flourish thanks in part to favorable government policies, Mexican immigrants such as Guadalupe Gonzalez had to tread a much harsher path, paved with threats of deportation, INS raids and years of unhealthy working conditions.

Adam Goodman summarizes these contrasting realities:

“Examining Sbicca and Gonzalez’s experiences together and exploring how and why they converged and diverged sheds light not only on their personal histories, but also on the histories of El Monte and South El Monte and the making of modern America over the course of the 20th century. And it uncovers an uncomfortable truth: some immigrants’ American dreams have been built on the backs of other immigrants.”


The newspaper article "Shoemakers get designs off the ground" from the Los Angeles Times praises the Sbicca family for being on top of the fashion trends in 1967. In the picture below the text, one can see Sbicca shoes and the hands, but not the faces, of the workers making them.

On this tour, we will examine the role of workers such as Guadalupe Gonzalez in the fight against deportation during the 1970s, a period in American history when the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) performed regular raids in factories that resulted in thousands of undocumented workers being deported without the right (or time) to plead their cases before a judge.

In this extract, Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez Ortega talks about her first job in California, at the Sbicca shoe factory in El Monte.

Sbicca’s famous shoes were the result of the labor of many workers that, like Gonzalez, spent an average of eight hours gluing soles without the proper equipment to prevent the inhalation of harmful chemicals. To learn more about Guadalupe Gonzalez’s days working at the Sbicca shoe factory in South El Monte,  listen to this oral history from SEMAP’s Immigration Activism Collection:

Sbicca Shoe Factory