This Eco-Friendly Company Crafts Beautiful Leather Products From The Andes

pictured: the leather pen & pencil roll-up case in cafe.

pictured: the leather pen & pencil roll-up case in cafe.

I’ve always been a very tactile person—a lover of the little things in life, the small pleasures, the tiny spark of joy that comes from turning a page or inhaling a favorite scent that brims over with memories. It’s about the quality of stuff, not the stuff itself; and if that high-quality something makes your life easier while traveling, then all the better. 

That’s where Alta Andina comes in.

This incredible company stands fully behind a message of conscious consumerism and environmental conservation, with beautiful products handcrafted using only vegetable tanned leather—an environmentally friendly alternative to chrome tanned leather. Their products include gorgeous, aesthetically pleasing passport holders, coasters, wallets, card holders, and more. 

I was excited to get the chance to pick co-founder David Gamburd’s brain about how he and partners Greg Krupa and Ryan Hood created their brand—and what they’re doing to further their message. 

Keep reading to find out more.

The Poetic Passport: What made you want to create Alta Andina? Can you share what the process of starting your company was like?

David Gamburd: Greg had been on a climb with his brother’s organization, the Range of Motion Project (ROMP), on the Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador. ROMP provides access to prosthetic care for amputees in Ecuador and Guatemala, and organizes climbs in Ecuador—and around the world—to show that amputees are affected by a missing prosthetic, not their missing limb. 

When climbing a mountain like Chimborazo, towering at over 20,000ft, you wake up to start the climb at midnight, meaning you “go to bed” in the evening to prepare for the climb. Greg was in the lodge trying to sleep, covered in synthetic, supposedly high tech gear, and freezing cold. His socks were made from sheep's wool, his sleeping bag from synthetic materials. 

The Vicuña, the wild ancestor of the Alpaca, live on Chimborazo, and the climbing group had seen them earlier in the day. Greg marveled at how these slender animals could stay warm with so little fur, while humans were shivering, covered in layers of the most technical climbing gear on the market. 

Why wasn’t anyone making outdoor apparel with the natural fibers and materials from South America? 

That question, accompanied by each individual founders’ love for the Andes Mountains and strong passion for environmental conservation, inspired the formation of Alta Andina.

I later met Ryan, who would be the third partner in Alta Andina. Together we identified materials and processes we could source, and craft, completely in the Andean Region of South America.

Companies don’t have to operate within the exploitative global supply chain that takes advantage of cheap materials and labor. With Alta Andina, our supply chain is completely located in South America, sustainable and ethical, and transparently highlighted on our website.

PP: You pride yourselves as a brand on being eco-friendly, and for spreading a message of awareness and environmental conservation in the Andean region. What projects are you working on to spread that message? 

DG: Alta Andina believes that the more we can connect people to the great outdoors, the better chance we have of preserving nature. As a company located in the Andean region, our first priority is protecting and connecting people to the natural beauty of the great Andes Mountains.

That’s why we’re collaborating with the international NGO The Range of Motion Project (ROMP) and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment to construct the world’s highest altitude, self-guided trail accessible to disabled individuals. The trail is over 14,000 feet above sea level, along the continental divide in the Cayambe Coca National Park, 50km from Quito. 

Currently, the scenic lookout point at the proposed trail’s end is a popular destination; when it’s completed, it will become accessible to people with all types of disabilities—from intellectual to physical. In adherence with the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, this trail will ensure that disabled individuals enjoy equal access to public lands—and for the first time globally at such extreme heights. 

This project will serve as a model for accessible trail systems throughout Ecuador’s parklands. The trail will bolster the local economy through tourism development while strengthening the links between equity, human health, inclusion, education, and environmental sustainability.

Was it difficult knowing where to start when it comes to sourcing your products ethically and sustainably, and can you walk us through some of your process?

Building our supply chain was, and continues to be, our biggest challenge. 90% of leather in the world is chrome tanned leather. We had a difficult time finding tanneries in the region who produced vegetable tanned leather at all. We visited as many tanneries and potential manufacturers as we could, tasking them with producing vegetable tanned leather, or prototyping our initial line of handcrafted accessories. 

There were several points in the early stages of Alta Andina when we would see disappointing work delivered from a potential supplier and each go home thinking, what are we doing? 

We didn’t want to work with anyone who didn’t share our values, so partnering with a tannery that produced vegetable tanned leather on the side, and produced mostly chrome tanned leather, was a compromise we did not want to make.

That’s when we found Curtiembres del Valle (CDV), our leather tannery, and PyP Marroquinería (PyP), our manufacturer—both family run businesses with strong values. Julio Cesar took over the tannery from his father, Pablo and Pastora are the husband and wife owners of PyP. 

Julio Cesar, and Pablo and Pastora all share our concern for the environment, and making sure our businesses reduce our impact on the environment as much as possible. 

What’s your personal fave product in the line? (I know, probably a tough choice!)

Actually, one of the products that you have is one of my favorites. I just came back from my honeymoon, where my wife Cori Jo and I camped and hiked in the Grand Canyon, and Zion National Park. We took the pen and pencil roll (pictured below), and used it for our little camping utensils, pens for journaling, our lighter for the campfire, a knife, and some other little items that are really nice to have all in one place. The roll has so many diverse functions, it can be purely a pen and pencil roll, but it is really up to the user and their lifestyle, that’s why it is so fun to me. 

another shot of the pen & pencil roll. (note: this product was gifted)

another shot of the pen & pencil roll. (note: this product was gifted)

International Travel Checklist: 7 Things to Do Before Leaving the Country

Taken in one of the master suites at the El Santuario Resort & Spa in valle de bravo, mexico

Taken in one of the master suites at the El Santuario Resort & Spa in valle de bravo, mexico

Prepping for an international trip can be hectic, to say the least. You’ve got a million different things to remember (not to mention remember to pack), before adding some glorious new stamps to your passport and setting foot on foreign soil. Who wants to be that person who abruptly realizes, while standing in line at airport security, that they’ve forgotten their passport at home? Certainly not I.

If you’re like me, you derive a large part of the joy you get from the entire experience of traveling in planning the trip itself, and in little details like this. But even if you’re not, that’s what I’m here for!

Keep reading for the 7 things you need to do before leaving the country, ahead — and then get to checking ’em off your to-do list before jetting off overseas.

1. Make Sure You Have A Valid Passport (And/Or Visa) 

First things first: Make sure you have a valid passport. If this is your first time traveling abroad (and even if it’s not), it’s important to know that different countries have different regulations — with some requiring your passport remain valid for at least 6 months from your return date. I don’t have to tell you what a buzzkill it would be if your passport’s not up-to-date! In some cases, you may even need to expedite it. Been there — like I had to when traveling to Costa Rica in January.

This is obvious, but equally important: You’ll want to check, and then double-check, that you brought your passport when you’re actually headed off! I like to take photos of mine while traveling, just in case; that way, I can leave it locked in the safe in my hotel room for safekeeping, while still technically having the information “on hand.” This is necessary in countries like Costa Rica, where if you get stopped by authorities, you’re required to show your travel documents.

Pro tip: Make copies of any other important travel documents and store them on your phone locally. That way, you’ll still have access to them even if your Wi-Fi is spotty.

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2. Check For Travel Advisories 

It’s always a good idea to check travel advisories before you get to your destination. This means anything from inclement weather conditions to safety advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State (which you can check here).

If you really want to be prepared, you can register for STEP, or the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, to receive important alerts and enable others to find you more easily in case of an emergency.

3. Notify Your Bank And Credit Card Companies

With the advent of chip technology, not all credit card companies require you to notify them when traveling internationally, but it’s always good to cover your bases!

4. Exchange currency beforehand

I’d suggest using your credit card whenever possible, but exchanging currency before your travels, so that you have cash on deck if need be. You can also withdraw money from an ATM once you’ve arrived at your destination, but depending where in the world you are, exchange rates can be risky.

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5. Upgrade Your Phone Plan 

If you ask me, upgrading to an international phone plan while traveling is a game-changer. Wi-Fi can be unpredictable at best, depending on where you’re going, and even potentially dangerous to use in some areas — hey, the frequency of identity theft is a sad truth in today’s world.

Most phone plans make it extremely easy to purchase an international plan, and pay an allotted price per day for unlimited data usage. And if you ask me, it’s totally worth it to be able to post real-time updates on the 'gram — not to mention be able to use Google Maps wherever you go. (Okay, so maybe I don’t have the best sense of direction, and of course there’s nothing like the feeling of getting lost in a new city… but sometimes you really do need to figure out where you’re going!)

6. Do Your Research 

This one is KEY, in the same vein with double-checking travel advisories before taking off on your trip! It’s important to do your research when traveling to another country, whether it’s something as seemingly obvious as checking the weather, making a plan for how you’ll get from the airport to your hotel or Airbnb, or practicing simple phrases in the language.

Being aware of cultural customs (i.e. dressing appropriately) is also important to bear in mind when traveling to certain regions in the world. It can even make or break your trip.

7. Check-In to your flight Early 

Last but not least: Check-in to your flight early, if you can — and be sure to get to the airport at least 2 hours before your flight. If you’re like me, you’re almost always running late. This means you should absolutely plan for that while heading to the airport, to keep abreast of any last-minute snafus. Especially if you’re taking a red-eye flight.

Happy travels!

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