(10 Apr 2017) LEADIN:
Hidden in a remote village in the Southern mountains of Spain, a centuries-old leather manufacturing hub is defying conventional wisdom about how to survive in a global, competitive world.
Made in Ubrique is a secret success story - and the unseen label of thousands of designer handbags and leather goods from top brands around the globe.
Locals in Ubrique, a 17,000-strong village in the province of Cádiz, pride themselves on a leather industry dating back to the 18th century.
Today a clutch of small manufacturers produce handbags, bearing famous logos, which are carried on the arms of fashionistas around the world.
The secret of their success is a commitment to quality above all.
Alejandro Oliva is co-owner and manager of handbag manufacturer El Potro.
"Since I was a child I have been taught to care a lot about details, any detail, any seam, any well glued part, any well ironed thing, the leather well looked after, all these details that make the product one of high quality."
The towns' workshops, around one hundred mostly family-run firms employing an average of 40 workers, have managed to survive the economic crisis that hit Spain in the past decade and cheaper manufacturing costs offered by Chinese competitors.
In recent years the luxury brands have been returning to do business in Ubrique.
José David Romero is the co-owner and marketing director of Piel Fort, another leather manufacturer in the town.
He says that a good quality luxury handbag with a brand logo, is something consumers are prepared to splash out on.
"I believe Ubrique has survived better than other similar places of other business for two reasons. First, the specialisation in premium and luxury products, where clients don't care much about price, what they want is a very well-manufactured product. And second, because handbags are considered the great luxury accessory for women's fashion. Fashion has democratised itself and many articles can be bought for very different prices, but the handbag is the great symbol of luxury."
Juan Enrique Gutiérrez, is Head of Leather Companies' Association ByPiel and Director of the Professional Training School, which trains up local people to be the next generation of artisans.
"Company leaders decided to create a professional training school. It didn't exist in the past. In the past, workers were trained at the workshops, inside the factories," he says.
Julián Izquierdo, the director of the clothing sector at ICEX (Spain's public institute in charge of promoting foreign trade) says that at the turn of the century many luxury clients abandoned Ubrique's firms to seek more lucrative deals in China.
But he says the trend started reversing around five years ago and the clients came back.
"Around 2003 there's an enormous crisis. The crisis particularly affected Ubrique. Ubrique is a place which was specialised in high-end leather manufacturing for the best luxury brands worldwide. When these decided to go produce in China, it provoked a big crisis."
The owners of the firms in Ubrique are reluctant to give the names of their clients – they sign non-disclosure agreements with them - but Izquierdo is clear that Ubrique is the "most important" and "prestigious" leather manufacturing cluster in Spain, and second only to Italy's Tosacana in the high-end niche worldwide.
Izquierdo says Louis Vutton handbags are made in the town, but Louis Vutton's PR team declined to confirm this.
Exports of leather manufactures from the province of Cádiz increased more than threefold from 2009 to 2015, according to ICEX.
Urbique workshops offer cheaper labour costs, some of the workers earn Spain's minimum wage of 707 Euros per month, others can earn 1,506 euros per month.
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