An interview with Fernando

Aimée Smith, 29 April, 2019
We catch up with Fernando Garcia, an artisan leather craftsman based near to the beautiful mountain village of Grazalema, in southern Spain.

Although Inntravel routefinders David Lanfear and Linda Lashford spend much of their time on the road scouting out wonderful new destinations for our customers to enjoy, when they do return home it is to the spectacular Grazalema Sierra in southern Spain.

It was here that they first met Fernando Garcia, an artisan leather craftsman who lives and works in the area. They told that Fernando’s handmade bags are really rather special, and that a trip to both his Grazalema shop, La Venta Vieja, and nearby workshop is a must, so we thought we’d take a few moments to find out more…

Q: So, how did it all start? Have you always worked with leather?
No! I was actually an aircraft mechanic with a really stressful job in Madrid. It was when I decided to give it all up and look for more peace in my life that I almost ‘accidentally’ became a leather craftsman. I moved south, bringing very little with me, but I did pack my uncle’s leather working tools. I took over the management of a campsite in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park and to relax in the evenings I started ‘dabbling’ with leather. That’s how FG Handmade Bags started.

Q: And what made you choose Grazalema as a base?
I wanted to live in a rural environment, amongst nature. But when I decided that I could make my living with my leather work, of course I needed to sell. And to sell I needed people and Grazalema seemed the ideal spot. It’s a beautiful village, surrounded by mountains right in the middle of the Natural Park, and at that time was already starting to attract tourists from both Spain and overseas. So I had my customers, without trying too much!

Q: Tell us a little about the process. What is it that makes your bags different from a ‘regular’ leather bag?
In the evenings (often over a glass of wine!), I draw up some of the design ideas that have come to me during the day. Then the following day I go into the workshop and choose the perfect hide for that particular design. The next step is the cutting, then the construction, the sewing and so on. So that’s the first thing that makes my bags different. I do everything myself. From the initial inspiration to the final product, that’s my work. There’s no-one else involved, nobody, so they are a very unique and personal creation. And I don’t make them to sell, if you know what I mean. I never think ‘today I’m going to make a briefcase because I know I can sell it’. I make a bag because the design has come to me.

It’s more like being an artist, really. I ‘paint a picture’ because of an inspiration, not because I have a potential customer waiting for a painting. Of course I also do a lot of custom-made work, where a client has asked for a particular bag. I am nearly always happy to do the work, but on rare occasions I say no, simply because the design is horrible!

Q: And where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
Basically from nature – from what I have around me. A cork oak, an orange tree leaf, the way a hill dips into a valley, the stream running over the limestone rock...

Q: We understand that you don’t make the same bag twice; have you never been tempted to repeat a successful design?
I have repeated a design, but not because I’ve been tempted to do so, but because I’ve been asked to do it by customers! On our website there’s a little story about this

Q: Where can we buy the bags? Do we have to make the trip to Grazalema (please say yes!)?
Of course you should come and visit me and my workshop! There’s an added attraction now, too, as we’ve recently moved out of the village into the countryside and I finally have the space I’ve always wanted for a large workshop with accommodation (a sweet little two-person self-contained apartment, ‘La Higuera’) so that I can run leatherwork courses. So yes, you must come! But if it’s impossible, well, we have the website where you can look at photos of bags and then order one online.

Q: Do you concentrate solely on bags or do you make anything else from leather?
Apart from the obvious – smaller wallets, purses, glasses cases, tobacco pouches etc. (always in stock) – I make anything I get asked to! Dog collars, hunting knife sheaths, camera cases, saddle bags, watch straps... I also do repairs. That was very common when I was in the village; there always seemed to be someone with something that needed mending – from a shoe strap to a mule’s harness! Oh and belts. Either from new (lots of them!) or punching in extra holes when someone was on a diet!

Q: And what do you enjoy doing when you’re not designing bags?
We only moved into our house in the country in October 2018 so I still can’t really believe we’re here! So that’s what I enjoy: walking the dogs, sitting under a tree with a book, pulling weeds, playing with the grandchildren... wallowing in my good fortune! And, of course, one other new thing I was introduced to this year was helping out my wife, Jo, doing some Inntravel route checking! We spent eight days in Almería in January and loved every minute of it. It was tiring but great fun and I discovered another wonderful part of Spain.

Q: One final question: what is your favourite walk in the region?
If it wasn’t for Jo, I wouldn’t know how to find any of the walks around here! She does occasional work as a walking guide and she’s taken me on some lovely routes. My favourite is Grazalema to Montejaque. It’s so varied!

Further information

Browse Fernando’s beautiful collection of handmade leather bags, each one individual, and all designed and created by Fernando himself.
Shop online here >
The Grazalema Sierra
The pretty, white town of Grazalema makes a perfect walking base, with an astonishing array of flora and fauna in the surrounding mountains. Explore the area on our week-long walking holiday, based at the welcoming La Mejorana, a delightfully renovated town house.
More about our walking holidays in Spain >
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