Paradise Ubrique: the Leather Handbag Capital of Europe
In the 18th century, something significant happened in the mountains of Andalucía: immigrants arrived from Italy bringing with them the artisan knowledge leather craft to the sleepy Spanish town of Ubrique.
Originally making saddlebags and agricultural pouches, their expertise extended to tanning and dying leather and thereafter to the industry of recreational bag production.
Ubrique is surrounded by the Serrania de Ronda mountain range and has a unique regional microclimate which keeps it lush and green. Clear streams, white villages, and pristine cork forests surround the area. Fashion purists love the fact that Ubrique itself is remote with no train station or airport nearby; even buses arrive infrequently via the steep and winding roads. And forget plush hotels. What better place for artisans to focus on their craft, away from the fast-paced fashion capitals of Milan, Paris, New York and London.
And yet the fashion houses Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chloe, Chanel, Loewe and Carolina Herrera have their exclusively high-priced leather bags manufactured here, though their production processes and ateliers are rarely revealed to prevent copycat productions. This confidentiality merged with generations-old artisanship makes this region additionally fascinating, like a modern-day Shangri-La.
Today, perhaps half of Ubrique’s population are involved in the leatherworking industry, with generational passing of knowledge which keeps it truly ‘craftsmanship’ led. It’s in the town’s blood and much of the labour involved the tanning and dying.
Many ateliers still refuse to install commercial production lines, so manufacture remains a hands-on approach and it’s not unusual for a single craftsman to manufacture the whole bag, its cutting and original design apart. That brings a sense of pride, as well as accountability, to the finish article. This also means that every bag is subtly unique.
This personalised approach means that entrepreneurial handbag brands, besides the giant fashion houses, can request custom designs on smaller scales which allows them to be creative and compete. Aurora London is a classic example of a fast-growing UK business whose designers can fulfil their ambitions to bring unique handbag designs to life. Read more about design.
Whether the creative process requires full-grain leather, lush or Saffiano leather in smooth or mock-croc effect finishes, the Ubrique artisans are experienced in them all. Read more about leather grades and finishes.
Ubrique wasn’t insulated from the global financial crisis, despite is favourably cut-off location. A decade ago, manufacturers switched to cheaper production options in Asia, but they soon realised that the quality simply didn’t back up their brands. Unsurprisingly, they soon reverted to the home of leatherwork in the Spanish mountains. But there was an additional growing momentum for production to return to Europe: the move to sustainability and environmentally friendly production. And this is where Ubrique really excels, because it has a self-regulating duty of care to its own surroundings and immediate environment.
For example, Aurora London has a manufacturing mandate to only use ‘repurposed leather’: hides are sourced from animals culled for meat and not from cows reared purely for their hides. Additionally, Aurora London favours natural tanning and dyes made from vegetable compounds, not from chemical colours. This brief falls squarely into the comfort zone of the Ubrique ateliers. Read more about sustainable production here
In the world of mass production, it’s good to know that the leatherworking industry of Ubrique remains one of the few examples where quality and sustainability conquers quantity. It’s a ‘paradise’ for entrepreneurs where small-scale production is still possible at prices which can undercut the luxury handbag fashion brands without any compromising on materials used. So you can wear luxurious handbags at affordable prices with total peace of mind.