This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.
Café Leather is a young Spanish brand committed to offering durable and timeless leather goods, crafted to the highest standards while keeping alive centuries-old manufacturing traditions.
For this issue of Brand Talks we sat down with Miguel Sánchez, founder of Café Leather, to discover his background, understand the brand’s approach to sustainability and discuss the challenges involved in starting a company from scratch.
Hi Miguel, could you share with us some details about your background and how it led you to create Café Leather?
Of course! My first job was an internship in the Marketing Department at Heineken, where I gain insight on the operations of big companies; I thoroughly enjoyed the experience as I was in charge of the Champions League promotion. I then moved on to a startup focused on flash sale campaigns, where my job involved sourcing and contacting suppliers, offering them the possibility to enroll in our weeks of 30-40% discount with their products. There, I built an experience in online sales.
Next, despite recognizing that this path wasn’t my long-term career goal, I also had a strong curiosity about the retail sector. So after a trip to Bali, where I discovered – and fell in love with – Deus Ex Machina, I got in touch with them and ended up being the Brand Manager for Spain and Portugal for them, but also for Woolrich, Baracuta, Veja Shoes, Komono and other cool brands. After all that, I felt ready to start my own brand, investing all the knowledge I had gathered from those experiences.
Your brand draws inspiration from the world of coffee, as evidenced by the use of “Café” in its name. Could you elaborate on this connection and highlight the similarities that you see between your products and specialty coffee?
At Café Leather we are crazy about Coffee, but that’s not the sole reason behind our name choice. As you suggested, specialty coffee has much to share with our production process. Every step in our manufacturing process is executed by hand and driven by an unwavering attention to detail, just like specialty coffee is made, from the care in the harvest to the brewing by a skilled barista.
What sets specialty coffe apart from its commercial counterparts is the sustainability in growing and processing of the beans: in order to obtain unique flavors in the mug, it is essential to use ecological growing techniques. At Café Leather we mirror the same ethos: everything, from skin tanning to manufacturing follows traditional and ecological practices. Just like a finely crafted coffee, the vegetable-tanned leather we use is an incredibly sensorial experience.
What’s the philosophy behind the brand, and what are its core values?
We base our philosophy on three fundamental pillars: the strive for authenticity, a passion for the small details, and respect for well-crafted goods. Café is my way of understanding life expressed through authentic products – products with a soul, made like in the old days, only using the finest and most respectful materials and working with the best local artisan hands.
Café Leather has a strong commitment to collaborating with brands that share the same values and attention to small details. One example of this is your partnerships with IWC, Land Rover, and Jaguar, among others, to create unique capsule collections. Can you tell us more about how these partnerships came about and what the results were?
Every time we consider a collaboration, there’s a point we won’t compromise on: it must involve a company that shares our core philosophy. This synergy allows us to create products that feel authentic to both brands and have that soul that we always look for in our creations.
Among all our past collaborations, one undoubtedly stands out as particularly thrilling: imagine having just started, and your dream brand, IWC, knocks on your door, tells you they love your driving gloves, and asks to join forces on their new project “IWC Racing Works”: it was a summa of all my passions, literally a dream come true. The final results – the driving gloves, the pilot bag, but also the visual narration of the entire processes – was just incredible, and still gets me excited.
I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with many fascinating brands, but the IWC team was truly exceptional. From the outset, they made me feel like a part of their family, placing trust in me and allowing me to pursue my creative vision without constraints. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this amazing family!
Environmental sustainability is a core value of Café Leather. Could you describe how your brand ensures that all of its products are environmentally friendly?
Sustainability, for us, means creating products that can potentially last a lifetime. On our planet, tons of clothing are manufactured every year, and more than half of it finds a way to garbage cans in less than twelve months: we’re committed to breaking that cycle.
Our primary material, vegetable tanned leather, is made in the most traditional – and therefore respectful – way possible, just like it used to be for hundreds of years. We exclusively use natural tannins such as Acacia or Mimosa, instead of chromium, and this means our leather is part of that mere 5% of leather worldwide still treated without the use of chemical components. Some might view the long manufacturing process – taking 45 days and involving 50 individual steps, compared to the single day required for chemical tanning – as a drawback, but it’s our pride to do things slowly and prioritize environmental friendliness.
A relevant peculiarity of vegetable tanning is the fact that it leaves the pores open, enabling the development of a rich patina over time; this is what truly makes each product unique.
Could you tell us more about the manufacturing process of Café Leather products? Specifically, where are they made and how do you go about selecting artisans who share your commitment to sustainability?
All our products are handcrafted in Cadiz, Spain, same as many other leather goods from luxury brands. Materials, however, are sourced from different countries: leather comes from both Italy and Spain, while our waxed canvas is British. Right from the outset of the brand, we made the choice to use exclusively the vegetable tanned leather I mentioned earlier, so that narrows down the number of possible suppliers; we also make sure that our hides are dried in open air rather than in drying chambers, which is again not the faster process but the most sustainable. Trusting only expert artisans then ensures our products are crafted in the best possible way, and they will age gracefully rather than just wearing out.
How has Café Leather evolved over time and how do you see it in the future?
After seven years of activity, it feels safe to say we’re an established company. We have ten people working full time, plus all the artisans involved in our supply chain, and we’re currently offering over 500 different references. We plan to release new products in the close future, including shell cordovan watch straps and even selvedge denim trousers; furthermore, we’re actively working on new collaborations, although I’m unable to provide specific details at this moment. Keep an eye out for some exciting developments in the coming months. Stay tuned for what’s to come!
As an entrepreneur, what have been the most significant challenges you’ve faced while building Café Leather?
You could say that every step was a significant challenge. When I started Café I didn’t know anything about leather, about running a company, getting people into that company, surrounding yourself with the best team, rewarding them like they deserve… Actually, the funny thing about a company like Café Leather is that it has the same departments as companies that are way bigger than us. We have our design department, we source materials and artisans first hand, we have operations, logistics, customer service, quality control, sales, marketing, human resources… it’s not something easy to start and run, but once you are rolling, you learn something new every day.
However, if I had to single out what the hardest part was, it was definitely establishing ourselves with a 200-ish Euro price point. It’s way more challenging than being a new brand offering a 20€ product: gaining the customers’ trust and confidence is a longer and harder process, and that’s only possible if you are very clear about what’s behind your product, what makes it unique and worth the price.
And in general, thus far, it’s been a ride filled with ups and downs, mistakes and success, investing in designs that eventually turn out unsuccessful and almost scraping off others that instead brought a blow in sales… it was worthwhile, but as I always say, there have been more grey days than sunny days (kind of like London). Anyway, the sunny days feel so good they make you forget the rain.
Finally, can you leave us with a motto that embodies Café Leather’s brand philosophy and approach to craftsmanship?
Be authentic! I think our motto perfectly fits our aim of bringing back all the good traditions and products made to last: we seek authenticity in every corner.