BELLO, Colombia – When he was just 11 years old, Juan David Zapata Quiroz took an interest in leather, a world he discovered at his uncle’s belt factory, where he got his first connection with the leather goods industry and formed, without knowing it, the foundation of the handbag business he founded in Bello municipality.
Every morning before going to school he rode his bike to his Uncle Octavio Zapata’s business to help out with the family enterprise that was to be his destiny.
“Working with leather for me was part of growing up,” Juan David, owner of Fresh Accessory, which makes leather items for big-name Colombian brands, told EFE.
Before setting up his own business he worked with his uncle in the production area, learned to make belts and at age 17 asked for a sample collection to become a belt salesman.
“I went around villages...I was really good at selling. In one year I picked up some really important clients,” the entrepreneur said.
Juan David was a restless youth who, besides taking courses, attended leather fairs, one of them in Bogota where he went of the International Leather, Footwear and Leather Goods Fair, the most important of its kind in Colombia.
“I didn’t have a stand, but coming out of the booths I put a piece of cloth on a chair and exhibited my products to attract clients,” he said about what almost got him kicked out of the fair, but where he was allowed to return after formally presenting the creations of his brand.
One of his clients saw his potential and suggested that he start his own business and stop walking around the streets with a suitcase. That same day he registered his company.
“I began working at home on a little table; I bought a receipt book and told my mom ‘This is my company, so please answer the phone politely because it’ll be a client.’ That was 11 years ago,” Juan David said.
He went on to make some 10 purses a month and use his whole room in the process. He looked for a bigger place to accommodate the growth of Fresh Accessory, a name that captured the freshness and modernity of his first collection.
He rented his grandmother’s house where he had played with his cousins in his childhood. Now he formalized his business here thanks to training by the Interactuar Corporation that let him leap from the handbag business to a company selling an array of leather articles.
“It caused all kinds of uneasiness,” Juan David said about the process that included systematically organizing the administrative part, besides undergoing mental and psychological training.
“I’m from the old school of sales despite being 35 years old,” said the entrepreneur, who among his ups and downs recalled the time he was left working alone with his wife when the orders had dwindled.
Today Juan David works at building his brand so he can open new points of sale, start a Web site and develop an economy line and another of household products like rugs, place mats, trunks and mirrors, always with leather as the star.