Source it! Source it real good!

It’s something about being first gen that makes me want to explore the entire world, but it’s also the fact that you’re first gen that gives you a guilt about resting, but maybe that’s all just the multiple Capricorn placements in my chart. I make it a point to travel abroad three to four times a year, each one hopefully revolving around fashion week, a museum exhibition, or at a leather capital I haven’t visited yet. They say only in big houses, do designers get to travel for work, so I became the designer and the person who hired her, because if there’s one thing I’m going to do, is hop on a plane.  Work begins to feel like you’re creating and collaborating globally.  Wow, how I wish that was a term ya’ll could pitch to corporate america, ‘I’m sorry boss man, I’m out creating budget sheets globally from Greece to see how to avoid, you know, a total collapse in our budgeting. Hahaha! Yeah you get it, okay see you next week.’

When I began thinking of my handbags, I wanted to make sure that if I outsourced and had them manufactured, that I was able to find the best manufacturer and leather wholesale vendor globally, but it wasn’t until I was shopping for leather one Sunday morning that could tell which country Tandy’s had sourced that specific hide from that I began to question why I knew from a simple smell. Before I knew it my travels had became a sociological observation of the  variety of factors that will affect how leather is produced depending on your global position geographically.

One of the factors that plays into the leather quality is how the country as a whole feels about meat consumption. Leather is a byproduct of the meat industry, taking something that would otherwise be discarded into a product that can be sold. I have found in countries that don’t deal with beef consumption as much when compared to other kinds of meats the leather tended to be somehow not as high of a quality as countries that deal a bit more with beef in their diets. I may be wrong and it might just be random observation but I find in part that people tend to focus on what brings them income and if beef consumption isn’t big in any part of the world there will be less people involved in its cultivation or less experience regarding different techniques or knowledge that comes with centuries of knowledge as it regards leather as a traditional craft.

It is the same countries who have dealt with leather as a craft which has been passed down from generation to generation tend to adhere to more traditional techniques of cultivating leather. When I think of this Mexico, Morocco, and even Italy come to mind. In shops near town centers you will often find veg tan leather, edges go uncoated, and there is a traditional quality to the leather. The artistry is presented with minimal, if no color at all, with most of the attention coming from the carving or engraving of the hide itself. Totally different from what one might see on the shelves of designer handbag stores. Some have even alluded that because this type of leather requires less dyes since it maintains it’s natural appearance it is more environmentally friendly as well, as things such as veg tan leather tend to have a longer lifespan as well. I have seen the techniques that leather workers have used in Morocco, the same their fathers and forefathers used before them, with unbearable smells that will have your eye flinching and in these spaces, in pools of chemicals you will find worker after worker sometimes with minimal equipment, in open air spaces practicing an art for the observers willing to expose the nose to such smells.

On the other hand its interesting to see what happens to leather when a country maintains it’s affinity for it in combination with resources and technology. It is no surprise Italy is revered as a leather hub, and with its umattched buttery softness and array of colors it doesn’t surprise me why. Maintaining a tradition, and yet having the resources to play with technology has also allowed them to play with things such as color and texture on what would otherwise be untreated or veg tan leather.

While traveling through Jaipur, in an inconspicuous road I was introduced to the King. And as I sat in his shop with his staff waiting on me hand and foot while I inspected his inventory I could see why he boasted of the fact that big label houses came to him for production of their handbags, and I could see why. While convinced with his talent but not the leather I’d come across prior to our meeting I asked if I could ship him leather to produce my products with and he said yes and it all began to click.  These products which sale for thousands of pounds on display windows up and down the Champs-Elysees that are often sewn by machines in Spain, or in India for those who are trying to maximize the bottom line.

I’m not here to claim one leather is better than the rest depending on where it came from, it just all depends on what you’re searching for. If you want more natural leather there’s a variety of countries who’ve preserved the art and do it extremely well while if you’re searching for chrome or colored leather there are places who’ve been economically blessed to explore the intersection of tradition and technology. So next time you travel to a place with a tradition of leather behind maybe treat yourself.