A soft-spoken man, Luis smiles his shy grin and sits on the stool to chat. I always love talking with him - he is visibly passionate about what he does, always testing out new techniques and trying to improve the quality of his work.
"People see the difference between something made by hand and something made by machine," Luis says. "That's the most gratifying part, both for me and the client. When the customer receives their product and they say, 'I love this, it turned out really well,' I love hearing that. It's incentive to work every day to be better."
Luis showing off his wallet that he made 20 years ago and has been using ever since.
Luis Eduardo Castellanos has lived in Bogota his whole life. He has been doing leatherworking for 45 years - the longest of anyone at the workshop, including Cesar. As a kid, Luis started an apprenticeship to learn saddlery, the art of leatherworking for horses, including saddles and reins. From there, he moved on to making bags and braided leather belts, everything always made by hand. He worked in the military for a bit, making everything from gun holsters to tents. Luis tells his story [translated from Spanish]:
I opened up my own workshop at home for a few years and would sell my saddlework to shops in Bogota. After people stopped buying hand-made, I left leatherworking for a while. I worked a variety of jobs - as a driver for the city, as an administrator for a produce market. But I always kept up with leatherworking at home as a hobby. After my other jobs, I tried to sell my leather pieces again, but by that time, things had changed. Leather isn't used as much anymore in saddlery, now people use nylon. Nothing is hand-made anymore, everything is machine-stitched and with rivets. It's no longer artisanal. People no longer valued my work.
I was working as a city driver when I stumbled across this leather workshop. I was driving by and stopped at the stoplight in front. The pieces in the window caught my attention. I came back another day and stopped in to say hi... Cesar was working with some students, and I saw that they were stitching by hand. I was surprised, because you don't see people doing that much these days. I told Cesar that I'd been doing leatherworking for years and asked if I could work for him. We chatted while I told him about all of my experience. He said he wasn't looking for any help at the moment, but called me two weeks later. I've been working here ever since, for about a year and a half.
When I ask what his favorite leather is, he tells me the whiskey. "It's so beautiful and fun to work with." His favorite bags are the Restrepo Briefcase and Magdalena Handbag - both in whiskey leather with orange suede. He says, "I've worked with machine-stitching too, it's a lot faster than working by hand. For example, with the Restrepo Briefcase - that's something that, if I were making several at a time, would take me about 3 hours to do each one. By hand it takes 35 hours."
Luis continues about how he loves the work here. He especially loves the clean look of the double-needle stitching on our men's bags. "I love working with my hands, it's relaxing," he says. "I enjoy learning new things."