The leather goods industry in Colombia can be tracked as far back as the pre-Columbian times, when native tribes, employing great skill and resourcefulness, would use the skin of their latest animal catch to fend off the cold. In order to prevent the leather from hardening, these men would use animal grease from the same kill, slathering it all over the skin they’d chosen, in order to keep the leather useful and intact. This simple task, which to them served mostly as means of survival, would cement the base of what would become one of Colombia’s first artisanal traditions.
Fast-forward a couple thousand years and, through experimentation and a trial-by-error practice, artisans come upon the discovery that different types of skin could be used for different types of tings: shoe soles, belts, bags, riding chairs and even delicate gloves. By 1952, leather had become a fully cemented institution in Colombia.
Nowadays, Colombia has become the go-to country when it comes to high quality leather due to the ever-growing cattle industry within the country. At number eight, Colombia produces leather that’s in high demand among the international market, from the United States to Australia.
According to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), the leather goods industry employs around 0,6% of Colombia’s population and, at the same time, it represents 0,27% of the country’s GDP. In September of 2015, leather exports amounted to a total of $54.1 million USD, with an increase in demand from countries such as South Korea, Panama and Japan.
The leather industry is continuously growing, and Colombia has nothing to envy from countries such as France or Italy when it comes to nationally-made leather pieces. Nonetheless, this growth hasn’t been easy.
According to Luis Gustavo Flórez, president of the ACICAM, a private entity that brings together businessmen who work in the shoe-making industry, Colombia is greatly affected not by legal competition of imported leather goods, but by “disloyal competition” coming all the way from China. The Chinese markets, which import cheaply-madeshoes, have stolen away the markets and have competitors pulling at their hair trying to find a way to beat unrealistic and, frankly, unbeatable prices.
Free cattle in the Andean Cordillera of Colombia
These missteps might have slowed down the process, but they haven’t stopped certain industries from pushing forward in the market. In a country were economic issues seem to constantly appear, the leather goods industry is hoping to make a change for the better. By 2018, Colombia is set to form part of the top 3 Latin American countries who dominate the leather goods market, preceded by Brazil and Mexico. The leather goods industry is snowballing, slowly but surely, and is evolving quickly in order to meet top international standards. By that year, people of the industry hope that leather goods will amount to 4.1% of the country’s industrial employment, with an annual production growth of 8% or more.
Colombian leather is rapidly making its way to the top despite all these hard times and circumstances, and there’s no denying the talent of the people who have latched onto the business from early on. Many international brands have begun to work with Colombian leather, and entrepreneurs are creating innovative startups to take advantage of the quality and name of the leather to export their products.
People can’t seem to get enough, and that’s justified by the timelessness, design and craftsmanship displayed by Colombian-made leather goods. Unlike most materials, leather doesn’t grow old, and it doesn’t deteriorate on its own. The only reason someone would throw away a leather item is because they’re bored of it – and with pieces made in Colombia, this won’t be the case.