Shopping in Ubrique

Fernando looking at hides in a warehouse in Ubrique
Fernando looking at hides in a warehouse in Ubrique

Ubrique, half an hour’s drive away down a twisting mountain road, is where we Grazalemeños go to do our weekly shopping, take our car to the mechanic, or where the younger ones go to study. Fernando also visits the town regularly to buy leather. Piel de Ubrique (Ubrique Leather) is a brand known worldwide for its top quality. For decades, the leather industry has been giving employment to many of the town’s population.

Ubrique LeatherThis morning I went down with Fernando to buy some materials. He had a special type of leather in mind that he needed for an order. Whilst he rummaged through hides of all textures and colours, I chatted with the owner of the warehouse, Julio Cabezas.

Julio inherited the shop from his father and now runs an enterprise that has been in the family for four generations, more than a hundred years. Business goes on, but is changing: “I sell under a tenth of what I used to sell when I started”. Capitalism, the search to cut down production costs as much as possible, has lead to the closure of many factories in Ubrique: of the 400 factories making leather goods only 10 remain.

Leather hand tools
Fernando choosing hand tools in Julio’s warehouse

Julio has taken on the challenge and adapted to the new market, mainly through internet sales. Clients from up to twenty different countries visit his website “because we offer exclusive products at good prices”.  He also supports small businesses as opposed to industrial production, offering craftsmen like Fernando the possibility to buy hides in smaller quantities, as well as developing his own range of hand tools. He has recently started organizing courses in traditional leather-working.

Julio knows that the effort put into a hand-made product adds a value and quality impossible to achieve through mass production.

Finally, Fernando found the hide he was looking for. In a few days his hands will have transformed it into yet another unique and exclusive bag.

Ursula Neilson