How one town is crucial to the leather goods industry
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How one town is crucial to the leather goods industry

Two leather bags: made by different luxury companies, and bought in different hemispheres of the world – what do they have in common? Amongst the obvious fashion appeal, the answer may surprise you: they were probably made next to one another. The town of Ubrique in southern Spain has been playing major supplier to the luxury leather goods industry for over 200 years. This lengthy tradition of artisanal work gives it the edge: skills have been nurtured through generations to their absolute apex.

LVMH and Kering, both on a roll this year, source goods from Ubrique

lvmh kering1408

SOURCE: Yahoo Finance

There is a strange sense of secrecy in Ubrique, as big brands impose strict confidentiality clauses on their suppliers to avoid the risk of cheap knock offs. Juan Antonio Sanchez, manager at leather goods manufacturer Ranchel, explains: “we have to sign a contract of confidentiality, then the factory, the manager, and every worker have to sign it. They have an individual contract and they cannot take pictures, they cannot take the designs or anything to do with the products.”

The draw for fashion houses is simply the quality of the work that is created in Ubrique. Jose Urrtia, founder of luxury shoe and accessories firm La Portegna, said: “I asked them for some samples and I was blown away by the quality of the stuff they made.”

This quality is simply down to centuries of perfection, as families distil the crafts they practice into their most perfect form. Sanchez describes it as a kind of inheritance: “the technique, it can only go from father to son, because it’s very specialized. Kind of they have it in their blood.”

But this high level artistry is not impervious to threats from modernity. Urrtia sees it as an industry in danger: “the whole concept of craftsmanship is dying. The beautiful thing about this place is that it’s not just one street or a couple of houses. It’s an entire village. There’s always been a notion of the economies of scale but that doesn’t work that well here. A good bag needs x amount of hours. You can’t cheat your way into it.”

These high end products set brands like Gucci and Vuitton apart. Arguably, it is their best bet for a successful future. In a world of cheap labour, machine construction, ecommerce, and fast fashion, there is one thing that simply can’t be replicated cheaper and easier by upstart competitors: real, artisanal, quality.

Disclosure

Dominion holds Kering, LVMH, and a number of other brands to which this article applies, in its Global Trends Luxury Fund.


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