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IWC Schaffhausen

The journal

Café Leather and the search for authenticity

It’s nice to know that old school handicraft still exists. Where time matters – but in another way, it does not. Where quality is first priority. The two founders of the small Spanish leather manufacturer Café Leather, Miguel Sánchez Ibáñez and Kiko Requena Búa, like to make things by hand, the old-fashioned way. The results are exceptional, some of which can be found in the all-new flagship boutique “IWC Racing Works” in Zurich.

“Café Leather” – an interesting name for a leather company. How did you come up with it?

Miguel Sánchez Ibáñez: Touching vegetable-tanned leather and smelling specialty coffee are both tremendously sensorial experiences. When we launched our brand, we realized that there were many similarities between our specialty leather goods and specialty coffee. We meticulously focus on each and every detail and handcraft each of our products, from bags to driving gloves, from wallets to luggage tags. The same goes for producing specialty coffee: each phase deserves full attention and passion, from the handmade harvest to the preparation by an expert barista.


What is the most exciting part in working with leather?

Miguel Sánchez Ibáñez: When you work with leather, all the senses come into play. The first sense is touch. That alone is a wonderfully crazy feeling. Then you start to take a closer look, and you listen to the sound it makes when you rub the leather. Finally, our favorite sense is the smell. You can’t help but bring the leather to your nose and smell it – because it has such a natural and unmistakable smell. It probably produces short circuits in the brain.

Kiko Requena Búa: What’s also fascinating is that vegetable-tanned leather improves over time. The vegetable tanning allows the pores to remain open and create a patina the longer and more often you use it. So, each product develops its own unique style and character. Undoubtedly, this is one of the things that makes our customers fall in love with our products. It finds its way into your heart. 


What products have you manufactured in collaboration with IWC?

Kiko Requena Búa: The collection is inspired by the worlds of classic car racing and aviation, and consists of 5 products: the Triton Driving Gloves IWC x CAFÉ, which feel like a second skin and make you experience the road like never before; the Pilots Bag IWC x CAFÉ, we took inspiration from bags that pilots carried in the 1940s and 1950s; the Luggage Tag IWC x CAFÉ so your suitcase won’t get lost; the iPhone Case IWC x CAFÉ; and finally the Keychain IWC x CAFÉ. We have been working with the IWC team for many months to make sure we properly capture the essence of both brands. We always spend the proper time to understand what's behind a brand: tradition, philosophy, values. Every single detail is important to bring life to our products.


What is the difference between your approach and conventional processes?

Kiko Requena Búa: The way we tan our leathers is a secret that has been passed down from generation to generation. But I can tell you this much: We use natural tannins that are extracted from trees such as the Acacia, Quebracho or Mimosa. Our tanning process may take up to two months and includes around 50 different procedures, which ensure that the leather’s pores remain open. By contrast, 95% of conventional leather manufacturers tan their leathers in just one day, using an environmentally-harmful chemical called chromium. It closes the leather’s pores and what you get out of it is more similar to plastic than to natural leather.


Miguel Sánchez Ibáñez: Exactly, we always apply ecological and sustainable processes for our leathers: from skin tanning with natural extracts, to the manufacturing of our products by the best artisan hands of Ubrique in Spain. All leathers we use are traceable and undergo an extensive quality control before we further process them.


Tell us a bit more about the vegetable tanning process!

Miguel Sánchez Ibáñez: First, we put the skins together with the vegetable tannins and water into a giant wooden barrel that spins for a duration of up to four weeks. Once the leathers are tanned and removed from the barrels, excess water is pressed out, and they are hung up outside to dry in the fresh mountain breeze. This may take another week. After that, we apply olive oil and beeswax made by our artisans to the skins by hand to nourish and protect them. Depending on the final product, the leather may receive a final polish obtained by rubbing a special piece of round glass on the leather. 


Let’s shift our focus from the product to the people working with you. How do they bring your products to life?

Kiko Requena Búa: We are very proud of our artisans who are in charge of tanning the skins and manufacturing our products. Their knowledge has often been handed down from generation to generation. Sometimes, they’re referring to their grandmothers' recipes or manuals. However, what most people don’t know is that their knowledge and crafts are at threat to falling into oblivion. We don’t want this to happen! We cherish and honor this exceptional craftsmanship. When you look for product excellence, you rely on people with a surgeon’s precision and with a vast product knowledge. That’s how you turn something complicated into something that looks easy and beautiful. 

What does the collaboration with IWC mean to you?

Miguel Sánchez Ibáñez: We have loved IWC as a brand since we were children. We saw how our fathers used to proudly wear a Pilot's Watch, and the smile they had on their faces. Our passion for the brand grew even more when we learned about its affinity towards motorsports. We are big fans of  high-performance cars, rallies and auto racing - anything with wheels. Since our collaboration, we have begun to better understand the smiles on our fathers' faces. For sure, an honor to be part of this incredible family.


In the age of fast pace and digitalization, how come that two young men like yourselves have become engaged in such a traditional craft?

Kiko Requena Búa: Haha, good question! We are simply mad about the affection and care that is put into manufacturing goods. In that regard, we have always had a very traditional mindset. Which does not mean that we use typewriters or carrier pigeons to communicate, but we like things well done, since good things take time.


Miguel Sánchez Ibáñez: We like to devote the necessary time to each process and pay special attention to the details. We like to create products that last over time, that do not have a planned obsolescence, and that can pass from one generation to another. We are tired of buying products that last six months and then you have to throw them away. Nowadays, it’s only about profit. But we are not going to follow that path. We like the way things were made before.


We like to be authentic; we like real things.

A selection of Café Leather products are currently on display in the new “IWC Racing Works” Boutique in Zurich.

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