Alta Andina provides beautiful leather accessories made with nature in mind. They support the local communities of the Andes region and love to help out the environment of the local area. Read their fantastic story below, or view their beautiful natural and recycled products.
What drove you to start your business?
Alta Andina was founded with a lot of love for, and a desire to conserve the Andes Mountains, the Andean region, and its environment, along with its traditions, and heritage. Alta Andina celebrates the beauty and bounty of the Andes by sourcing and manufacturing everything from the Andean region. By starting with materials that have a lower environmental impact, and keeping our supply chain local to the Andean region, Alta Andina reduces the carbon impact of our products, while adding value locally to the economies where we work.
Alta Andina works to raise awareness around the problems associated with the norms of traditional exploitative global supply chains. Raw materials and cheap labor are extracted from the global south. Value is added to these cheap inputs elsewhere, and companies send products around the world, bouncing between continents to produce a single product. The environmental impact of such production is massive. Moreover, raw material extraction and exploiting cheap labor furthers the problem of developing countries staying poor, and their populations seeing no benefit from companies doing business in their backyards.
Crafted 100% by Hand
At Alta Andina our products are crafted by hand, utilizing traditional techniques and using materials from the Andes. Instead of sending our products to Asia for manufacturing, we do it all by hand in Colombia. Our products and their components have not traveled around the world several times before reaching a client's door, meaning just by utilizing our local Andean supply chain, our products on average have a 10X reduction in CO2 emissions compared to something produced in the typical global supply chain. This 10X reduction doesn’t even account for the benefit to the environmental and leatherworkers (and the general population) of producing vegetable-tanned leather vs. Chrome tanned leather.
Chrome tanned leather is proven to cause cancer among leatherworks, and degrade the natural environment making groundwater and farmland unsafe and/or unusable, and polluting rivers and other waterways. Chrome tanned leather production has largely been pushed to countries like Bangladesh and India, where environmental regulations and safe working conditions are scarce and mostly unenforced. For the population of consumers buying leather products, the problem is out of sight and out of mind.
Only Natural and Recycled Materials
Alta Andina uses only natural and recycled materials in our products, focusing on products with which we can tell a story and create awareness among consumers. Brands have a responsibility to be transparent, telling consumers what they’re buying. The leather industry and the fashion industry using “high-end leather” have been lying and deceiving consumers for decades. Cheap, chrome tanned leather that kills laborers and degrades the environment has been sold to people as high-quality leather, with brands making massive profits by exploiting laborers and the environment. Alta Andina is working to raise awareness around the issue of cheap chrome tanned leather, and promote sustainable, ethical alternatives.
One of the next products we’ll incorporate is a blend of PET (recycled plastic bottles) and re-used scrap cotton. This will allow us to raise awareness around what we call the synthetic epidemic. Virgin plastic continues to enter the global supply chain at a rate that is literally drowning the world’s oceans, beaches, marine life and human life in plastic. The world’s addiction to plastic is complicated, but utilizing recycled plastic is one of the best ways that brands can send a message and be part of the solution to this complex issue. Cotton is a crop that is greedy with water, yet clothing in the world of fast fashion is thrown away in alarming quantities. Scrap cotton is a great way to re-use otherwise disposed of materials that were environmentally costly to produce.
Celebrating the environment
Alta Andina not only celebrates the beauty of the Andes through our products but through our environmental and social mission. Currently, we’re working to construct the world’s highest altitude, self-guided trail, accessible to individuals with disabilities of all types. The trail, located at over 14,000 ft in Cayambe Coca National Park about an hour outside of Quito, will relate the achievements and unique adaptations of Ecuadorians living with disabilities to the adaptability of local flora and fauna facing the adverse conditions of the high-altitude park. Along with our partners the Range Of Motion Project (ROMP) we’ll work to ensure everyone has an opportunity to be inspired to conserve the Andes mountains, no matter their disability. Alta Andina is proud to sponsor the Climbing for ROMP, which in 2018 brought 11 amputees to the summit of Cotopaxi Volcano, nearly 20,000 ft.
Who are your employees or your artisans?
Our employees and artisans are between Ecuador and Colombia. The owner of our partner tannery, Curtiembres del Valle is Julio Cesar. CDV is located in San Gil, Colombia, Julio Cesar runs the family business that he inherited from his father, CDV has been in business 50+ years. CDV only produces vegetable-tanned leather. The employees at CDV are almost entirely from the small town where the tannery is located. Julio Cesar committed to education and literacy for his employees, working with them until they all received GED equivalents. CDV’s commitment to water treatment, solid waste treatment and re-use, odor mitigation and community integration is why we’re proud to highlight CDV in our transparent supply chain. CDV is in process of receiving the ISO ISO 9000 for quality control standards, 14000 for environmental management and 18000 for occupational health & safety in the workplace.
Pablo and Pastora are the husband and wife couple that own PyP in Bogotá, Colombia. Pablo has 30+ years as a leather craftsman. He and Pastora produce leather items for clients big and small. As a family-owned business, the culture of the working environment is strikingly different from the dozens of other manufacturers we visited. PyP’s attention to detail and commitment to the environment show through in small details that make a big difference, such as water-based glues, proper lighting and ventilation, fair pay, overtime, and even additional breaks just to relax.
José Jiménez is a grandmaster of Ikat weaving, one of the last in South America to continue dyeing everything naturally and weaving by hand. While his work has reached wide audiences, such as his work featured in the movie Frida, he is largely unrecognized and has had difficulty finding a market for his products outside of local tourism. We aim to provide a more steady demand for his scarves, and potentially other handsewn goods, through e-commerce. Alta Andina purchases all of Jiménez’s inventory upfront, we do not work on commission.
How did you find them?
We found all our suppliers by traveling through Ecuador and Colombia and meeting them in person, having previously researched potential suppliers. Our supply chain took us more than a year to build. We went through test production runs, samples, prototyping and more with several suppliers before beginning production for our first production run in 2017.
What do they mean to you?
Each founder has spent significant time in person with those in our supply chain. Countless hours in the PyP factory, sorting and checking items by hand, labeling and boxing products. Checking leather samples, playing with color options and finishes. Our suppliers are our partners and the most important part of our business. We are in direct text message/phone call communication with our suppliers almost daily. This intimate relationship allows Alta Andina and our supply chain to grow hand in hand. As we expand, we aim to create more employment opportunities for our suppliers and to expand and grow their family-owned businesses as we expand and grow our own.
What made you decide to start producing ethically?
We never considered doing it any other way. Alta Andina is working to further the movement of brands and companies producing responsibly, and continue the global momentum towards a full consumer rejection of mass-produced synthetic junk, what we call the synthetic epidemic.
What impact has your business had on your community?
By keeping our supply chain local to the Andean region, Alta Andina adds value to the local economies. Instead of just extracting raw materials and sending them to be manufactured in Asia or the United States, we export our finished product directly from the Andean region. Our local supply chain requires skilled labor and provides further opportunity for employment. Moreover, we only with work with suppliers who meet our environmental and human standards, meaning the employment we sponsor comes with safe working conditions, education, fair wages, and fair employment distribution for women.
What was the most difficult part of starting and running your business?
Building our supply chain. We visited many manufacturers that did not meet our standards for employee health and safety, and their impacts on the environment. Most manufacturers were not willing to train their employees to utilize the handmade techniques that make Alta Andina products so special. It was a serious challenge to find a manufacturer willing to re-train some of their employees to work on our products, and who would change sourcing of certain materials to be natural or recycled. This has involved tremendous hands-on work with our suppliers to help them source better materials (like copper rivets and locally sourced beeswax and to have a hands-on approach to demonstrating our techniques like hand burnishing and hand stitching. Finding a tannery that produced vegetable tanned leather was also difficult. Most tanneries produce only chrome tanned leather. If those tanneries produce any vegetable tanned leather, it is a small percentage that would not work for scaling our business. Moreover, it went against the environmental principles of the company to work with a tannery that mainly produced chrome tanned leather. Identifying, meeting, and working with our suppliers to make Alta Andina leather 100% natural, and our products handmade, was by far the most challenging aspect of building the company.
What has been the most rewarding outcome of your business?
Having our suppliers learn new techniques and advance their abilities based on Alta Andina’s feedback and instruction. CDV now produces leather without any synthetic finishes just for Alta Andina. CDV now knows that their leather can be produced 100% naturally from start to finish. New breakthrough was made in oil and wax application and finishing techniques. At PyP, employees have expressed that working on Alta Andina’s products make them feel happy and fulfilled. When PyP employees make something for another client, it is often with cheaper leather, and it all machine-based production. Through their work with Alta Andina, PyP employees have learned new skills, work with their hands, and produce what they feel is a product they can be proud to produce. Hearing first hand from employees that they really enjoy making Alta Andina products made each founder feel something that is hard to describe.
What is your company’s mission?
Alta Andina crafts products using natural inputs and recycled materials within a local Andean supply chain driven by our commitment to conserve the environment, traditions, and heritage of the Andean region.
Vision: Shift consumer demand and industry standards toward responsibly sourced and manufactured products.
Faire Shop strives to bring 100 million women out of poverty. Please help us estimate the impact of Faire.Shop’s network by sharing the number of women who you are supporting. We appreciate whatever input you can offer to aid our estimates—a rough guess is better than nothing.
- How many women do you help employ through your supply chain?
- How many men do you employ through your supply chain?
- How many women do you assist OUTSIDE of employment through education, training, sponsoring, mentoring, charity, or other beneficial means? (Please explain) - N/A - Alta Andina works with PyP which is partly women-owned, and employs more than 50% women in their facility. We do not have a direct outside benefit such as described in the question.