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Design Knowledge Intermediary
The secret supplier to the world's top designers
(08/Aug/2017)
The town of Ubrique in southern Spain is beautiful but remote. It doesn't have an airport or a train station and even buses are irregular.
 
Its position, nestled at the bottom of a valley surrounded by big hills, means the easiest way to get there is by car. But even then drivers have to navigate winding and often steep roads.
 
The town is around 75 miles south of Seville, nowhere near the world's fashion capitals of Milan, Paris, New York or London.
 
Yet this collection of white washed houses, known as a pueblo blanco (white town) in Spanish, is where many of the top fashion brands source their leather goods.
 
Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermes, Chanel, Chloe, Loewe and Carolina Herrera are all reported to use the artisans here to make things such as handbags, wallets and belts.
 
It started more than 200 years ago, initially with tanning leather. Eventually this evolved into the precise leatherwork which the town has become so well known for.
 
Yet almost none of these designers is willing to talk about it.
 
Most of the secrecy comes from the fear of someone using the high end designs to produce cheap copycat products, a costly problem for luxury retailers.
 
Juan Antonio Sanchez, manager at leather goods manufacturer Ranchel, says the big brands often have strict demands.
 
"We have to sign a contract of confidentiality, then the factory, the manager and every worker have to sign it.
 
"They have an individual contact and they cannot take pictures, they cannot take the designs or anything to do with the products," he explains.
 
Mr Sanchez's firm, which was started by his father, has now been making leather items for over forty years.
 
But the town's specialisation in leather goes back much further than this.
 
The techniques needed to produce such goods at the top end of the quality scale has been passed down from generation to generation.
 
Mr Sanchez says most in the town learn these skills when they're young by watching their parents as they work.