Rachel Laudan

The Leather Market

To say that Leon, Guanajuato is not a tourist destination for non-Mexicans is to understate the matter.  A quick google throws up comments about the pollution, the traffic, and the very ordinary quality of its main product, leather goods (not true by the way).

leather district

The Leather District

Yet I’m fond of this town now of a million plus people.  It’s bursting with life, one of the fastest growing towns in the country.  It’s managed to transform its colonial past into a booming economic present and, given the level of entrepreneurship and capital to invest in new enterprises, with luck for the future too.

tools

Leather Working Tools

In colonial days, Leon was part of what the historian Fernand Braudel called the civilisation of leather. This was the civilization of the ranching areas of the world. It had come from Spain, from North Africa and was transported to the Americas, Argentina, much of Brazil, parts of Venezuela, much of Mexico, and from there to the American West.

Before modern transportation, ranching was more for leather (and tallow) than for meat which could not be transported to market before it spoiled. In Guanajuato, leather bags were needed for hauling tons and tons of ore out of the silver mines.  In the leather producing areas, generally arid and treeless, the wooden civilization of much of  Europe gave way to leather: leather for chests, for stirrups, for saddles, for clothing, for whips, for buckets, for lining the walls of houses, for such furniture as there was.

Leather and iron chair

Leather and iron chair made in León

What León has managed to do is to translate those traditional skills into a huge tanning and shoe making and (increasingly) furniture making center.  If you wear Florsheims, or Hush Puppies, or Naturalizers, or Clarks there’s a very good chance they were made in León.   These kinds of shoes for export are made in the bigger factories away from public gaze.

shoe forms

Alongside the export market, dozens of small entrepreneurs try start ups or produced lower quality for the lower end of the Mexican market.  And I just love to prowl through that area from time to time, from the leather market at one end, through all the suppliers of things that shoe makers need, to the dozens of small workshops loading stuff up to be shipped off to open air markets across Mexico.

colored leathers

Belts

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12 thoughts on “The Leather Market

  1. Cindy

    Hey Rachel, we were in Guanajuato last April — I loved it there. If I’d realized that you lived there then, I would have stopped in to say “Hello.” We liked better than San Miguel de Allende. Ate many time at the restaurants along the street near the university, where my husband had some meetings.

    1. Rachel Laudan

      Yes, I agree. The tools and the products you see are all good. But the small shops at one end of the leather district sell lower quality goods. And in any case none of this is the high end artisanal (but dirt cheap) work that many visitors to Mexico expect to find.

  2. Jason Adams

    Hi Rachel,

    I am researching finding a wholesale leather products supplier. From what I have heard this is one of the best locations in Mexico for that. Do you have any advice on how to locate a reputable manufacturer in your area. Something like the Mexican version of the Chamber Of Commerce or the Good Ol boys network or what ever they use in Mexico to promote commerce in this area.

    It is really amazing I can get quotes from a ton of Chinese manufacturers on anything from toilet paper to consumers electronics from Alibaba and other websites for China but Mexico has no Internet presence for wholesale manufacturing that I can find. If you have any suggestions on what passes for business promotion or Thomas Registry (a web site that is totally useless) there please share with me.

    1. jude c

      Hi Rachel, have just stumbled across your blog. I will be travelling through the south side of Mexico city to oaxaca and up towards Isla Holbox… I am particularly interested in leather overnight bags… is there any area in this region that you could possibly recommend. Many thanks for your time

  3. Rainer

    Hi Rachel,
    I’m in Leon, Silao, Guanajuato for the next week.
    I was also there last jear and I love this place.
    Still 3 month I work a little bit with Leather and so it would be great to find some places there for a small talk or by some tools.
    I would be happy to hear from you.
    Best regards
    Rainer

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Rainer, I would love to help but I haven’t been in Leon in about eight years. Ask around for where the leather market is. It’s just to the right of the main road from Gto and Silao as you approach the center of Leon. Good luck.

  4. John S

    Rachel, You gave general info. How about some specifics? I’m going to Leon next week, can you give me a colonia to start looking in for leather working tools. I don’t have the patience for “Pa ya!”and the place I’m looking for is on the other side of the city. :D

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Type in Leon, Guanajuato mercado de piel on your browser and a map will pop up with Mercado de la Luz and Zona Piel (leather) neatly marked. Both more interesting than the Centro Commercial de Piel, at least when I was last there eight years ago.


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