Rooted in the spirit of the "American Dream" and utilizing a generations-old skill of leather and fine material restoration, Santana Leather Care stands out amongst the rest as America's top luxury leather repair and restoration resource. Robert and Yury Santana, brothers who emigrated to the United States from Peru over 20 years ago, have built a business based on the skills and trade their father, Arturo, taught them as young boys. Over the course of 15 years the two entrepreneurs have grown to have locations in New York City, Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, and a flagship repair center in Raleigh, North Carolina - as well as a partnership with luxury New York City retailer Bergdorf Goodman.
I was a recent customer of theirs, working closely with them on a project to restore a varied lot of high end items that range from Ann Demeulemeester boots nearly a decade old, to 30-year-old Judith Leiber lizard evening bags that belonged to my deceased grandmother, and even a rare Bottega Veneta cross-body bag that was produced in Italy in the early 1990s and was damaged from a bleach spill. The issues of each item ranged far and wide from small scratches to literally the need to completely rebuild a pair of French Marséll boots that had been worn out and resoled twice before being retired to the back of the closet for the past two years. The items restored and revamped by Santana Leather Care are worth upwards of $50,000 in retail value and hold dear sentimental value worth much more. And, at the end of the project, what the team at Santana Leather Care did was nothing short of a miracle. The process from start to finish was seamless.
The images seen throughout this article are before and after photographs that depict the changes and rebirth of these items through the expert hands of the team at Santana Leather Care. Nothing has been altered or retouched.
For anyone who is a consumer of luxury goods, or leather goods in general, you know that maintaining them is key to preserving their lifespan. But, sometimes, through everyday wear and tear, travel, moves, accidents, and other abuse that they inevitably see - these items can become permanently damaged and lose their luster. This is not only frustrating for the owner of these products, but sometimes sad when items have been passed down from deceased relatives and no longer have the life they once held. Many people are at a loss as what to do with their leather goods, shoes or luxury items, not realizing that there are many options in brining them back to life. This is where Santana Leather Care steps in. Not only can they bring the life of a product back, but they can literally remake or reinvent an item to fit differently or reflect a more modern and current style. They can stretch shoes, completely rebuild a shoe, change the length on a purse strap, turn an over-the-shoulder purse into a fanny-pack - your imagination is the limit. And, it doesn't matter the monetary value of the item you're looking to have repaired. If it's meaningful to you, it matters to their team.
Santana Leather Care has a reputation of leaving no stone unturned when it comes to color-matching dyes to leathers that are no longer in production. They will find chains for purses that most say no longer exist. They will replace grommets, strings, ties, repaint items- they are artists waiting for a challenge to conquer. And, that is exactly what they did with my items. After my items were boxed-up and sent to the Santana Leather Care workshop in Raleigh, North Caroline, I spoke with Mr. Robert Santana about his passion for leather care, luxury goods restoration, and his innate desire to see his clients happy.
IC: How did Santana Leather Care come to be?
RS: My brother Yury and I founded Santana Leather Care in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2008. We come from a family of artisans, our father worked and ran a leather tannery business back in Peru. I remember as children we were at the workshop learning the trade. As adults I took a career path in business and banking while Yury studied design and architecture, but we both had our calling in the leather business. We came to America in 2002 with the idea of creating our own leather business. After seeing the antiquated and disorganized way top repair shops where run in New York City we saw an opportunity and took it.
IC: What makes Santana Leather Care different in the leather restoration business?
RS: I remember being in a repair shop and a client dropping off her pristine white Chanel boots, and the cobbler coming from the back area with his hands soiled from working on other shoes - and touching them. Then is where we realized that there was a need in the market for what we had in mind. We structured our company in three pillars: 1. focus on the client experience, 2. focus on the location with a beautiful functional store setup and, 3. focus on the repair center in order to completely change the way repairs must be performed. We developed our own repair protocols, we redefined processes and mixed them with technology. We also developed our own training methods for our personnel. For example, when we hire a technician, we don’t hire them because of their experience, we hire them because of their talent, we look for great coordination with their hands. Aside from well trained personnel, we also have a creative approach to repairs, we recreate parts and replace them rather than patching or mending as a traditional repair. We also work hard on searching for new equipment. We believe that the repair performance will increase when we have the same equipment that the big fashion houses have for making their items.
IC: What are the main factors when dealing with customers that the team at Santana Leather Care operates under?
RS: We offer clients first class customer service, knowledge, and honesty. When clients visit any of our locations, they will be greeted by a trained client services specialist that will be honest and informative about their repair. We believe in honesty and transparency in order to manage clients’ expectations. You never want a client to think they will be receiving something brand new when it is many years old and severely damaged.
IC: What have been some of the most challenging cases in the history of the company in terms of restoring leather goods?
RS: As we like to think LIFE happens to everyone! LIFE also happens to our fashion too; every repair has its own unique challenge and back story. From spills and falls, to puppy bites, creative toddlers and everything in-between. There is one very touching and memorable repair of a client’s son’s ski boots. The client’s son unfortunately passed in a plane crash going on a ski trip and the only recognizable item they recovered from the accident were these ski boots. Once the boots were brought to us and the story shared, we knew we had no choice but to figure out a way to restore them at least to display condition.
IC: What has been one of the most exciting projects to work on for your team and why?
RS: We have worked with countless celebrity clients and partnered to repair garments for photo shoots, television shows, and movies. Even helping with last minute requests for 30 pairs of boots going down the runway for New York Fashion Week. What we consider exciting projects are those that have history and bring joy to our clients. Items that remind them of great moments or special memories with loved ones. An example of this would be one of our clients bringing in his fathers World War II bomber jacket to restore and give to his son. Being able to restore articles with such historic and sentimental meaning really reminds us of the impact our repair center has on people’s lives and nostalgic emotions.
IC: How do you source all your leathers, dyes, and other items you need to restore valuable pieces?
RS: Many leather industry developments are in Europe - Italy, Spain, Germany, and other countries. In order to be up-to-date, we keep in contact with European suppliers, and we attend the largest trade shows in Europe. We order some of our leathers from Italian tanneries, the same tanneries the big fashion houses order their leathers from. We regularly order different textures of leather in neutral colors, then we give the finish as, for example, patent leather and our dyes.
IC: Where do you see Santana Leather Care being in the next 10 years?
RS: We are planning on continuing to expand in the Northeast. There is a big demand for high quality repair services as ours and many people need to become aware of the repair possibilities that they don’t know exist. So it’s our mission apart from changing the face of traditional shoe and handbag repair to educate the client and make them more aware of those options, which at the end of the day is our small contribution to a more sustainable environment.
Santana Leather Care not only works around the premise of restoration and giving life back to sentimental products owned by their clients, but they see their work as environmentally responsible. This is absolutely the case as fast fashion has created a mentality of waste - which negatively effects our planet. Santana encourages people to rethink their current items, reimagine them and then partner with the right resource to give newness to something old.
The entire restoration process for my pieces, almost 25 in total, took roughly 6 weeks. The team in the Raleigh workshop took extra care to bring each item back to life in a way that I never could imagine. Some items, like this Fendi leather handbag from the late 1980s, were so scratched that in broad daylight all you could focus on were the indentations and irregularities in the leather. When it arrived back to me, it quite literally looked as if it had just come out of the box - 30 years after it was originally purchased. I was stunned.
These Marséll boots, from Paris, had been worn all throughout the world - in cities like New York, Oslo and Rome; and even on treks in Southeast Asia. They were the definition of "worn out", and they had been resoled twice before. Santana Leather Care rebuilt them, added supports for structure, gave them completely new all-terrain soles and replaced the zippers. The results were unreal.
They looked like brand new boots and, in actuality, were.
The new soles look as if they are ready for another 5 years of travel.
This Gucci portfolio from the early 1990s has several water stains and scratches.
It arrived back new and ready to house ID cards, money and travel documents.
This valuable Judith Leiber red lizard evening bag was owned by my deceased grandmother and it had seen many parties over the 1990s and 2000s in South Florida, where she lived. It had scratches on the hardware and the lizard leather was dry, discolored and worn.
It returned looking as if it had almost never been used before - bringing about feelings of happiness knowing that such a special item to my grandmother would be preserved and kept alive long after her departure from this Earth.
Working with the team at Santana Leather Care was a dream. Not only were they efficient, kind, professional and caring - but I could tell they are a family working together to bring the very best to their clients. I don't know that I've seen such a prestigious operation with such a down-to-Earth demeanor. Their work is outstanding and for anyone seeking true leather restoration, repair, and the reinvention of something special in your life that you thought might never have life again - you won't find better.