My colleague Glynna Prentice (IL’s Mexico editor), models a rich brown suede jacket. She looks like a million bucks. “They even took up the sleeves for me,” she says. Alterations while you wait—when was the last time your neighborhood department store offered that?
“They had me come back…they did it in half an hour,” says Glynna. I’m sure she was happy to continue shopping while the jacket was customized for her…a half-hour is a blink of an eye in shopping time.
We are in Cotacachi, Ecuador, for the day. Here, one long road I’ve dubbed Leather Lane makes up the main drag…as far as shopping goes, that is. The street smells heavenly—of good quality, new leather.
Looking at Glynna’s new find, I can’t help but think about the last time I bought a suede jacket. I paid around $175 at Liz Claiborne, 10 years ago. I overpaid to have a brand name item…especially since no one can even see the fancy tag.
Glynna’s jacket looks every bit as fancy as my Liz Claiborne and the alteration is perfect; looks like the piece was made specially for her. She paid just $85 for everything and walked out of the store with her item in hand. In this video you can see the deal she got.
Glynna also picked up an elegant two-toned tote for $69. The bag, black leather with tan trim, looks ready for a picnic in the Hamptons (where a similar bag would be well over $300). At the same shop, a big floppy Bohemian purse, sage green with black patches, is 20% off—just $55. The shop owner says she will take off an extra $10 if I pay cash.
She also has handcrafted saddles from about $480, which I am sure I could bargain down to $450 or less. You’d pay about the same for a used saddle in the States. Here, you can commission one to suit your tastes and size—the price range stays the same. A custom-made saddle in North America, meanwhile, can cost thousands.
I salivate over leather briefcases and satchels for as little as $75. And I stare longingly at big overnight holdalls from $150 that look straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad (minus the logo). My favorites are the softest, creamiest beige—the kind of buttery leather that makes you want to run your hands along it.
I could find something to please every single person I know here. If I had the inclination, I could easily sell a few of these items out of my home—to friends and acquaintances—and make a tidy profit. Perhaps even make enough to pay for a vacation in Ecuador.
Anyone could make some serious money off of Cotacachi leather. There are just a few things to keep in mind. Because most items are hand-made, you should think small.
At a large shop, I chatted with the amiable owner. “Factories in other parts of the world, they can produce thousands, you know? But here, we are not looking to do that,” he explains. “Here we are producing in the hundreds.”
Cotacachi’s master leatherworkers hand pick tanned leather, then they lovingly wash and soften it. After drying the leather, they grease the material—often with linaza, or linseed oil, a shop owner tells me.
So it’s a perfect situation if you’re looking to sell hand-crafted, quality items to a small group of discerning customers…you can do this on a small scale out of your home, peddle to your neighborhood boutiques, or even set up something online. I would suggest investigating how to certify the items as “fair trade”—you could make money and help promote Cotacachi on a small scale as an environmentally friendly town with forward-thinking people.
Editor’s Note: If you like the idea of working or making money overseas, you may be interested in a free e-mail newsletter we recently launched. It’s called Fund Your Life Overseas. You can get a free subscription here.