N&C Leather is a brand created for Nohemí and Catalino a young couple of 29 and 33 years of age. This is their story of starting a local leather business, growing it and now expanding into international sales. Together they now have a small storefront and workshop in Pastores, a small town just outside of the picturesque Antigua Guatemala. Pastores is well known for it’s leatherworkers, all the locals know that this is the best place to go to have any type of leather product made but boots in particular are their specialty.
Growing up Catalino’s family was formed by his parents, one sister and one brother, he was the youngest. When he was 15 years old his father taught him how to work with leather, it was also at this time that his family said they could no longer help him with funds for his education. His options were he could drop out and work or if he wanted to study he would need to work to pay for his own education. Catalino decided to work and pay for his own studies, he was determined to graduate. To pay for his education Catalino worked to make the leather soles for the boots, for each pair he earned 25 quetzales about $3.5 and each pair would take a full day. Making the soles is one of the most difficult and tedious tasks in boot making. Weekly, Catalino earned 100 quetzales, about $12-13 from this he needed to pay for all his personal expenses and for his schooling. With time, Catalino found a better job, at Pollo Campero, a beloved Guatemalan fast food chain. Guatemalan’s love this place so much that when they travel abroad they bring this food to their friends and loved ones. Pollo Campero has even developed special packaging for air travel that fits in the overhead compartments and doesn’t release the smell of fried chicken. Catalino worked here for just over 5 years, and during this time he met Nohemi, his future wife. Catalino decided to leave the fast food chain to go back to working in a leather workshop, this time with his cousin making leather boots, not just the soles.
Nohemi saw her new husband’s talent and passion and offered him her savings to open his own shop in Pastores. Catalino didn’t like the idea of using the savings of his wife at first and he was nervous to go after his dream of having his own shop because what if he failed… What if he wasn’t successful in running his own workshop and storefront, he had all the fears that any new entrepreneur anywhere might feel but his wife believed so deeply in him and insisted he take the risk and start his own business.
“We don’t have children and so if we lose everything it is only us and we will find a way to come back from that.” Nohemi told Catalino.
Catalino and Nohemi began their work to open their own shop, but as time passed Catalino worried a lot because they had already invested half of Nohemi’s savings but they had not yet opened their shop or had any sales and they didn’t even have a location yet. Then one day Nohemi received a call letting her know that some people were abandoning their shop in Pastores and they should pass by right away to check it out. They went and saw it and it was perfect, right on the main street of Pastores, the town that is locally famous in Guatemala for boot making characterized by the quality of the products.
“And that’s how it happened, we got the space and opened the store.” Said Catalino cooly.
Now this young couple has 5 years working in their shop, they have a beautiful baby boy who is a year and a half old. Their hard work has paid off but even after getting their settled in their new store things weren’t easy. There are more than 100 leather shops along the main street in Pastores, the competition is fierce, and most of the producers just copy designs from each other meaning most have the same offering. Catalino makes it a point to not enter into another person’s storefront, he wants to make unique designs and not get caught up in the local drama of who is copying who. He produces boots for a few shops around Guatemala, has regular clients who visit him from Guatemala City and is always happy to make a custom pair of boots or accessories for any tourist who passes by. Catalino has big goals, he would love to one day have a storefront outside of Guatemala, but even with such big dreams for the future he never forgets about how he got to where he is. Each month Catalino supports his parents despite his tough childhood and often trying relationship with them. He remembers what it is like to have next to nothing, and he works hard every day to ensure the he will be able to fully pay for his children to attend and graduate from school.
It was the quality of Catalino’s work, his eagerness to grow his business outside of Guatemala, and his desire to learn and collaborate that drew us in to work with him as a member of our pilot program for the Artisan Incubator we are developing. The idea being that if talented local artisans and producers have a well developed brand and a good congruent collection that is priced well they can sell their goods directly to customers anywhere in the world; and that is exactly what Catalino is doing today on UTZ Market. Be sure to check out his collection of beautifully hand crafted leather goods for men and women and share his story to help him to continue to grow his business.