The World’s Most Famous Leather Markets
Table of Contents
Kanpur Leather Market
‘Leather City’, ‘Manchester of the East’, Kanpur is India’s oldest and largest industrial city and is the economic capital of Uttar Pradesh. The leather industry in Kanpur began in the nineteenth century when British forces made the area their base. The British Army’s need for saddlery, harness and boots created a thriving industry and the two companies which were formed at this time, The Government Harness and Saddlery Factory and Copper Allen and Company continued to supply British Forces throughout two World Wars. Following independence in 1947 production switched to domestic products which are now exported all over the world. The city has over four hundred tanneries of which ninety produce vegetable tanned leather. Although all kinds of leather goods can be found in Kanpur, its main line of production is footwear. Head to Meston Road, at the Bada Chauraha, to buy footwear, bags and accessories.
Agra Leather Market
Famous as the home of the Taj Mahal this historic city of the Mughal emperors also has a long tradition of leather craft. It was the Chamars of Agra who are credited with first discovering the use of salt to keep hide from rotting and the use of tarwar bark as a tanning agent. Leather production on an industrial scale began in the time of Emperor Akbar who decreed that all his soldiers should wear shoes. Shoe makers flocked to Agra from all over his empire and were soon crafting highly prized leatherwear for the nobility as well. The Sadar Bazaar is the most popular leather market. It is situated close to the Taj Mahal and is open from 11am to 11pm every day except Tuesday. A fascinating documentary ‘In Their Shoes’ tells the story of Agra and its leather workers.
Udaipur Leather Market
‘The most romantic spot on the continent of India’ Udaipur is visited by thousands of tourists each year. Set on the banks of Lake Pichola with a backdrop of the wooded Aravalli hills stretching away into the distance Udaipur has a magical setting as fine as anywhere in Rajasthan. Famous for its palaces, temples and mansions it is also a city full of markets, offering a huge variety of handicrafts. At the Bada Bazaar, open from 9.30-5.30 you’ll find leather bags, wallets and footwear and at the Hathipol market you can buy the brilliantly coloured traditional leather sandals, jootis. Jagdish Street is known for its beautifully crafted leather journals and diaries. If you don’t want to barter then go to Rajasthali, a fixed price shop offering a wide variety of leather goods.
Mumbai Leather Market
Dharavi Market, ‘the largest slum in Asia’, is known to millions as the location of the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. Home to over a million people who live and work in slum conditions it is, despite serious sanitation problems and a shortage of water, a thriving micro economy. It is the single largest hub for the manufacturing and sale of leather goods in the country, with over five thousand workshops and a hundred and twenty shops. Streets are lined with leather shops and because there are no middlemen prices are extremely reasonable. Though there is much obvious hardship the area is in the process of redevelopment and many find a visit to the area uplifting and inspiring. Guided tours are the best way to experience this city within a city.
South Korea Leather Market
Seoul is a vast city of ultra-modern skyscrapers and ancient temples. It is also home to numerous markets and in a country where leather exports account for nearly half of national earnings it’s not surprising that there are plenty of leather bargains to be found. Dongdaemun Market is Korea’s largest wholesale and retail shopping district with over twenty-six shopping malls and fifty thousand manufacturers. It’s open twenty-four hours a day. First time buyers would do well to enlist the services of a guide for a first visit, the scale of this market is not for the faint hearted. The Itaewon district is an area of bespoke tailors and high end fashion leather boutiques. You can bring your own design or choose from a catalogue and have an individual leather jacket tailored in just twenty-four hours. You’ll also find plenty of vendors offering a wide range of leather goods at very reasonable prices.
Barcelona Leather Market
‘there’s something you can send to me
Spanish boots of Spanish leather’
Bob Dylan is not alone in his admiration of Spanish leathercraft, travellers have sought Spanish leather for centuries and Barcelona, the quirky Catalan capital of the north has attracted an interesting variety of designers and artisans. Biba is a boutique where you’ll find unique leather goods made from vegetable tanned leather whilst Brussosa specialises in handmade Catalan designs. Likewise, Alexis Fasoli, tucked away on a cobbled street in the Born neighbourhood, offers delightful, one of a kind, handmade designs. If you head to the Mercat de L’Abaceria, where brilliant street art murals cover the shutters of the stalls you’ll find plenty of leather goods at market prices. If you want to simplify your shopping then head to Corte Ingles, a major Spanish department store, where you’ll find a rich variety of leather goods right across the price range.
Florence Leather Market
Capital of Tuscany, famous for its masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture, home to Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Florence also has a long history of leather production. The Scuola del Cuoio, the world-famous school of leather is located in the city and the small shops around the Santa Croce Church and the San Lorenzo market offer a huge choice of leather goods. Casual tourists need to be careful though, not all Italian leather is Italian leather. Roberta, in the Oltarno district, is a shop which gets consistently good reviews and at Pierotucci’s, minutes from the city centre, you can watch skilled craftsmen cut and assemble bags and jackets in front of you, so that you can be sure of the craftsmanship you are buying. If you head to the outlet mall on the outskirts of the city there’ll be much less charm and romance but you will be able to pick up a Gucci or a Prada at a fraction of the usual price.
Buenos Aires Leather Market
Argentina’s capital is a multicultural city of grand nineteenth century architecture and modern skyscrapers. It is the most visited city in South America, not only for its art and architecture but also for its leather. For a country that is the world’s largest exporter of meat its hardly surprising that leather production is a major industry. Although much of Argentina’s leather is for the export market there’s plenty of opportunity on the streets of Buenos Aires to acquire interesting and unusual leather products; perhaps a cow hide rug or a leather unique to Argentina, Carpincho. Carpincho, or gaucho’s leather as it is sometimes known, comes from the world’s largest rodent, the capybara. It is a soft grained, brown speckled suede which often bears the scars of the pugnacious capybara’s fights. Murillo Street is lined with leather outlet stores but although the prices are very reasonable the designs can be dated and the quality uneven. For a higher quality product make an appointment to visit one of the city’s designer studios where you’ll find the very best quality goods and the most interesting and innovative designs. ‘Prune’ is Argentina’s biggest leather brand name and you’ll find stores throughout the city or you can pick up a bargain at Prune’s outlet shop in the Villa Crespo’s outlet district.
Every MAHI is handmade to order in our family run workshop in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India, a region famous for its leather tanneries and finishing expertise.