At Waremakers, we seek out the planet's finest independent producers of quality wares.
Among them are a select group of brands whose goods are expertly — and proudly — handcrafted in the Iberian Peninsula.
From those drawing on Andalusia’s centuries-old leatherworking tradition to the Barcelona-based pioneers in the development of stretch cotton, read on to find out why these brands are utilisng and supporting Spanish production.
The spirit of Spain
Jose Urrutia, founder of premium bag, shoe and accessory brand La Portegna, couldn’t be prouder of his company’s Spanish roots.
He enthuses, "The lifestyle, the sunshine, the traditions and the values — the spirit of Spain shines through in everything we do. We are passionately inspired by our Iberian heritage and we wear the 'Made in Spain' label with pride."
One of the premium materials used in all of the La Portegna pieces is full-grain Spanish leather tanned with an exclusive blend of natural tannins and colour compounds from Spanish flowers and tree bark.
The leather is later treated with Spanish olive oil to make it soft to the touch and also more robust.
The company’s elegant goods are also handcrafted in Spain, with their shoes produced in Alicante, and their bags and smaller leather goods made in a village called Ubrique, in the Cadiz province of Andalucia.
The village, one of the country’s most picturesque pueblos blancos (white villages), has been internationally recognized since the 19th century for the quality of its leather industry, and currently produces around 75% of the leather goods made in Spain.
So just how has this remote Spanish village with a population of under 20,000 people become such a renowned hub for superior quality leather craftsmanship? Its natural surroundings have historically played a key role.
Land of springs
The name “Ubrique” is said to derive from the Arabic “Umrica”, meaning “land of springs”. The high levels of condensation in the area, means that a lot of water is filtered through the subsoil and is released in the form of springs. Abundant water is, of course, a primordial element for leather tanning.
Another important contribution came from Los Alcornocales Natural Park - almost all of the uninhabited 1,677 km2 of land in "Los Alcornocales", meaning "the cork oak groves", is covered by these evergreen oaks native to the Mediterranean.
Centuries ago, the inhabitants of Ubrique began developing techniques to extract natural tannins from the bark of the cork oaks, which they would mix with water to naturally tan animal hides.
Thanks to the hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit of the first “marroquineros”, or leather workers, the industry gradually expanded, with local artisans using the tanned hides to make small leather items, such as the “petaca”, a pouch used to store tobacco — which soon became popular in America.
By the 1970s, however, Ubrique’s artisans had started focusing much more attention on the production of bags, with many high-profile brands placing their trust in their work.
The expert craftspeople began to have pre-tanned leather sent to the village, allowing them to focus entirely on leathercrafting. Their craft was the legacy of centuries of hard work and learning; the inheritance of their ancestors — utterly ingrained in the locals till the current day.
As Urrutia recently told the BBC, "The beautiful thing about this place is that it's not just one street or a couple of houses. It's an entire village."
Tradition and innovation
Another Spanish premium leather goods brand combining tradition with innovation in their sleek designs is Belfry.
For Antonio Tormo, the company’s founder, supporting traditional local craftsmanship is a key priority.
As with La Portegna, he chooses Ubrique for the making of all of his bags, portfolios and wallets.
"Ubrique is a world-renowned leatherworking region and some of the most prominent international brands produce their goods there,” Tormo explains.
"I believe that, where possible, it is paramount to support local craftsmanship because these are the people who best represent and carry on a tradition that they have learned over many generations,” he adds.
“By supporting this kind of production, we are helping to keep a legacy and inheritance alive."
Passion and commitment
From Ubrique in the south, we move to the north of Spain and Vigo, the most populous municipality of Galicia — where MoiMoi co-founder Raquel Alonso Miranda was born and brought up.
The Clothing and Textile Design graduate, who launched the premium leather goods brand in 2010, along with graphic designer Kalle Järveläinen, is passionate about and committed to supporting the Spanish leatherworking tradition.
In fact, MoiMoi’s minimalist and functional bags are all made in Menorca, one of Spain’s Balearic Islands with a deep-rooted tradition of varied and intergenerational craftsmanship.
Alonso enthuses, “We were recommended an experienced factory in Menorca, and when we visited them, we immediately recognised their dedication to leathercrafting and making durable products — it was the perfect match!”
The company chooses to work exclusively with premium Spanish vegetable-tanned leather.
“It all comes down to our core belief in traditional craftsmanship, sustainability and use of the highest quality materials,” explains Alonso.
“There are far fewer suppliers specialising in vegetable-tanned leather than chrome-tanned,” adds Järveläinen. “When we were recommended a reputable Spanish supplier, we decided to visit them and found exactly what we were looking for.”
Unique, handcrafted pieces
The history of shoemaking in Spain is as diverse and deep-rooted as that of the handcrafting of bags and other leather goods.
In fact, research suggests that the oldest human rendering of shoes can be seen in a cave painting near the city of Santander dating back between 14,000 and 17,000 years.
As the Roman Empire extended across the Iberian Peninsula, so too did the popularity of their iconic sandals. By the 13th century, the Confraternity of Master Shoemakers of Barcelona was founded, and the cobbling profession had been granted an official status in the country.
Nowadays, over two-thirds of Spain's 1,400 footwear firms are based in Valencia, with many concentrated around Elche and the nearby town of Elda.
The Spanish shoe industry is known for rejecting assembly line production and favouring instead semi-artisanal manufacturing by small and medium sized companies.
The Rice Co. co-founders Pepe Quintero and Mario Gutiérrez have their durable organic cotton canvas and vulcanized rubber footwear handcrafted in workshops that have been making traditional shoes since the beginning of the 20th century.
"Each shoe is a unique, handcrafted piece, carefully made in Barcelona in the same factories and by the same shoe experts that have been making Spanish espadrilles and traditional shoes for centuries,” explains Quintero.
"The Rice Co. aim to bridge the gap between handcrafted artisan shoes and contemporary streetwear, combining past and future and blending the old Mediterranean shoe tradition with premium-quality footwear design."
Also based in Barcelona is Zero Defects, a family-owned business located around 20 miles north of the city, in Mataró.
Barcelona’s textile industry started in the early 1830s, when the first steam-powered mill began operating there.
The history of rail transport in Spain began in Mataró, with the construction in 1846 of the first railway line between Barcelona and the city leading the Catalan textile industry to become a national leader in the sector.
Zero Defects has been using traditional tailoring techniques in the making of premium underwear since 1920, and Katy Muñoz, the company's Marketing Manager, proudly describes how her grandparents were among the first to introduce stretch cotton in the 1970s.
"They were absolute pioneers in the development of stretch cotton for underwear in Spain," she explains.
Premium raw materials are brought together using a combination of cutting-edge innovation with traditional tailoring techniques, largely unchanged since the company's inception in the 1920s — a clear example of the new breed of luxury brand, one where the focus is entirely on timeless, purposeful design and uncompromising quality, which all of our Spanish makers proudly epitomise.