Discover the chrome-free sustainable design of Balsa Leather
From a family tradition to an innovative company that creates pieces u could take anywhere: Balsa Leather has its own manufactured tricks.
A mix of experience and innovation that continues through generations. Balsa Leather was born in 1984 by the hands of a father who really loves lxthr. The secret to live that long? Creating long lasting pieces as well.
Introducing a new way to think about lxthr, Balsa believes that individuality + handmade creations can change the everything-is-the-same-kinda-boring-market we live in nowadays. That’s why all their articles are part of a unique process - just like the people behind them: from the tanneries that don’t use machines to skins that show scratches, mosquitos and sticks. The goal is makin’ pieces that u can take anywhere to keep your daily treasures safe & sound.
And if functional style is an important move for Balsa, so is sustainability. By puttin' in effort to find the best way to work w/ lxthr, Balsa takes down the theory that it can't be sustainable by valuing its natural process and using a chrome-free material to create long lasting pieces.
“It is more sustainable to buy a lxthr bag because lxthr never dies - it continues its life”
Already want a new Balsa to call it yours? We have one more secret to tell you: they come from Colombia - so the products can’t lie and are full of culture inside.
That’s it. Now you can read our interview with Balsa. It’s kinda dense so relax & take your time. Maybe when you're finished u will be ready to stitch your hands to a new lxthr bag. 👜👇
Balsa Leather comes from a family tradition. How is it to work with creativity and innovation in a company that has a traditional background?
This is interesting about the history of Balsa, because my father started the factory in 1984 and the way we produce and design is, in fact, more traditional. I guess I can say that in the old days we used to produce and the customers didn't actually decide about this hole process, they just got the one piece you ofered them from your stock, but the market changed a lot in the 2000s and now all of them want to have something different - and that's the reason behind the changes in our company along the years.
I believe they were all smart decisions, because leather and manufacture industries in Colombia are totally different from what they were 10 or 15 years ago. It's a natural process and I think it will never stop changing, you know? My father is already 64 years old and I'm 33, so it's kind of a good match between experience and innovation. Our idea is that this mix continues to happen w/ our family future generations. It's not easy to work and make that much with the family, but it's really a great job because we are all in the same team and it can make your company stronger.
When you say that clients don’t want the same thing, you mean they can ask for different colors or details? So you always have to produce unique products?
Yes, we use very traditional leather where you can see the scratches, the mosquitos, the sticks and everything, but we are smart designers and right now we can offer our customers some small changes in our pieces. They are able to ask for whatever color they want or add some extra personal aspects to the designs, like pockets, metal zippers or even a longer strap. Like I said, the market has changed, so it's a natural move for the stores to introduce some customers ideas in their products. Nowadays, people want to contribute to the creation of a design and we can offer that, so we're doing it.
You are talking a lot about how family impacts the way you produce and the way you run the company. Balsa Leather is based in Colombia. Does Colombian culture influence your creations, your products, your brand somehow?
Of course, it's impossible to not have a big influence from our culture, especially from the people behind each design. Our bags are mainly made by them - and not too much with machines - so handmade is a very important aspect in our articles, because when something is made by a person it carries the culture and the history of who made it. That's the reason why you can look to a Balsa product and see a happy bag with very Latin-Americans colors, because we are very close to people and all our final products have our culture inside them.
And what about the combination between function and style? How do you balance those two aspects in your creations?
We always start a creation thinking about people and wondering about who is going to use our pieces. As life has changed a lot and everybody has an office in their backpacks, customers have a lot of things in their minds nowadays. For that reason, we have to create products that people could take with them to the gym, to their jobs, their houses or even to a bar in the end of the day. We have to think about the whole routine process of the people who are going to use our articles, and leather actually helps with that, because it has this natural characteristic of being a product which has style and that is going to be used for a really long time. It's also a nice material you can work with and have a very functional result.
So you create pieces that people could take anywhere and could have with them all the time. Can we say Balsa is made for versatile people with diverse lifestyles?
Sure! I believe Balsa is also for saving treasures, because nowadays, they are all inside a person's bag or wallet. No matter what your work is, you have to keep it inside a bag and that's the reason why we want to make pieces that are always with you. We want people to feel good while walking around the streets because their treasures are safe and available inside their Balsa article.
What are your treasures? What are things you always keep in your bag when you're traveling?
First of all, I keep my Bible, it’s very important. Second, I keep pictures of my kids and wife, my credit cards, my passport, and my cellphone - to be honest, my cellphone is always in my pocket. I’m not that organized, but I have everything inside my bag: my chargers, my folios, my notebook, my agenda. These are the treasures I keep in my bag and also in my wallet.
In the way people live their lives today, sustainability is becoming increasingly important. You guys already work w/ chrome-free leather and have others sustainable practices. How do you see this moment when fashion is concerned with the environment?
It's not easy to have a great product and a great price, but you have to make an effort. For example, a product with chrome tanned leather is easier and cheaper to make, but I think we have to understand the world we live in right now. People think that leather is impossible to be sustainable and that’s not true.
We are the ones that take the rubbish of the meat industry, so in our country, just to add a context, we eat a lot of meat and we have a lot of cows which are killed because of that - and not because of the leather. That's the reason you can look to our products and maybe see a scratch or a mosquito, because the skin was not taken care of during the process and we used that leather to make a bag, it’s a chrome-free and natural cycle. That’s why it is more sustainable to buy a leather bag. And I believe you have to make an extra effort to make special pieces by working with leather, because you have a material that continues its life. Leather never dies, you know? If you buy a bag today, maybe in one month it will be different because it continues its process with you. It’s as if you’re in a storm and get wet or if you put your bag a lot in the sun, it’s going to change - and this is very nice.
You speak of leather with a lot of excitement. What does it represent to you as a material? Do you have a special or emotional relationship with leather or you just ended working with it because of your family?
Nowadays, we have our own relation with leather, but as a child our house was always full of different samples because it was my father's job. And I don't think that he really wanted me to continue his legacy, but it was something that happened. As I used to visit the factory a lot when I was a kid, I started giving ideas and when I continued my professional process I realized I really wanted to develop my life in the leather industry.
We were just talking about sustainability and there’s another issue that is becoming more and more important: representativeness. Balsa Leather is made of 70% of women. What does this mean to you? Is it on purpose or it just happened to be that way?
Besides leather rushness and very rustic feelings, the match with woman is very important to us. In the creation process, it is needful for us to have them, because there are things they can do better than us as men. I believe women are much more responsible and make every level up. Moreover, in our country we have a lot of single moms, so I really prefer to help these girls as much as we can by giving them jobs, leisure-time activities or something nice for their kids. We actually think too much about these connections with women and it’s one of our goals, in the next three months, to develop a big process that can support their life quality inside our company.
So, is matching these specific manufacturing talents of each woman to the importance of artisanal work you mentioned before: is that what creates such unique and different products for Balsa Leather? Do you think that the handmade work is still a difference in the market instead of having machines producing something?
Yeah, for sure! I think it’s a very nice match to have a material like leather - that in our case is chrome-free - with artisanal work. There are not many machines in the tanning process either, so it requires a lot of staff to make it happen. That's why if you look at our skins, you will see that every skin is unique. We also have different people making each article, so that aspect adds one more layer to the fact that they're never gonna be exactly the same. They're always gonna have small differences because we have a handmade process and we have contributors who work very hard and are very inventive with their hands. It’s not like they’re gonna count the number of times they’re stitching like a machine does and that's very nice because this is how you introduce special products in the market. Sometimes, I think there are too much standardized products in the industry and people are just tired of the same perfection. If you look to products available here in Europe and also in the US, they're all perfect, but everything is equal. If you look to wallets and bags, they are very nice, but they're always really the same, so I believe we had a smart idea.
We were playing around and talking about the treasures you keep in your bag before. But now, if you had a special treasure, where would you hide it?
In my house, for sure. There are a lot of nice spots actually, so I don't know. Maybe I would keep little bits of my treasures in different places, but I think my house would be the main one.
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