Vancouver Designer Turns Mexican Leather Handicraft Into Trendy Fashion

Just a Few of the Colorful Creations
in Anaya Leather’s Vibrant Collection

I will go on record saying that hand-tooled Mexican leather work is a highly underrated art form.  When it’s done well, it can be exciting.  Oftentimes, you can find it, but the work is not attributed to anyone. 

A Vancouver woman is branding herself as the source for traditional Mexican leather work in Canada and turning it into an on-trend contemporary mainstream fashion business.   

Thirty-four year-old Mexican-born Johanna Anaya de Guevara is the brains behind Anaya Leather and Vibrant, a hand-chiseled and painted handbags and accessories collection.  Tired of seeing the same old fashionable bags in dark and drab colors, Johanna decided to create her own line reflecting who she is and the aesthetic she wants to embody. She is building a considerable following in the Vancouver area since her work has become available in established retail shops such as Timeline Boutique in Gastown and A to Z on Robson Street. 
Johanna Anaya de Guevara in Vancouver with
Pieces from Her Vibrant Collection
While she may be new to fashionistas, Johanna has a long history with leather.  She began learning the art of leather working as a child growing up in her native Leon, Guanajuato.  The region has a rich history and is internationally renown for its leather industry.  Her blood runs rich with leather as well, since her father was a shoemaker.  Her grandfather opened his first shoe “factory” in a small garage, where he used to make handmade shoes with his sister.  Within three years, his business grew, and he opened a larger factory in which he even built his home. There, in Leon, a town where most school kids were required to wear uniforms, he made shoes to match. 

At the same time, Johanna’s grandmother ran a small leather work studio in the Central Bus Station (the Central Camionera de Leon) where she would make leather clothing for a clientele consisting of mostly Americans and Canadians who worked at the General Motors assembly factory in town. 

A product of a bilingual education administered by nuns, an adolescent Johanna translated and became a “Jill of All Trades” at age 13, cutting and burning threads, finishing leather jackets, putting on snaps–anything that needed to be done.  Along the way, she participated in large leather trade shows in Leonand also worked at a leather tannery for a year-and-a-half.  

Finally, at 21, Johanna embarked on a new adventure to Canadato pursue college studies in Saskatchewan.  She made her way there via Vancouverand, as a result, fell in love with Western Canada.  But school awaited, so she completed her studies there and returned to Vancouver. It was then that she met her soon-to-be husband, well-known Vancouver visual effects guy, Georgia Straight illustrator, and fine artist Krystian Guevara. 

One of Anaya Leather’s
Hand-Chiseled Laptop Bags
When it comes to product development at Anaya Leather, Johanna is involved in every step from her Vancouver studio–from conceptualizing and drawing a sketch of the piece to outlining which graphic will be added.  Once she is satisfied with the look, she selects the perfect piece of leather. For her first collection, she utilized vegetable-tanned leather (the best type of leather on which to carve, stamp or use a chisel). 

One of Anaya Leather’s Mexican Artisans
Hard at Work on a Handbag
When all the designing is complete, specifications are sent off to Mexico where the magic begins.  Before local artisans begin carving, the leather must be completely wet.  A metal plaque is used to mark the outlines where the planned design will be carved.  Afterwards,  several stamping tools and a mallet complete the design.  It is then left to dry before it is painted with German water based dyes.  The final steps involve sewing the pieces together and applying one last finish.  In the case of Johanna’s handbags, it can take many hours of labor to get the final product to look just right. 

It would be impossible to deny the Latino influence in her work. After all, that is her background and she is proud of her heritage. Her handbags, wallets, coin purses and more showcase the brightest color palette–from orange to yellow to fuchsia, green and turquoise–an extension of Johanna’s sunny disposition.  Her positivity and love for life, family and other people around her almost radiates from her work elevating her pieces from fined-tuned craft to art. 

Clutch This!  An Assortment of Handbags in
Anaya Leather’s Vibrant Collection
“People love my handbags, I think, because they make you stand out instantly in a crowd,” she says. 

And while she is positive about the direction her life has taken, moving to Canadaand leaving her family in Mexicowas always a point of sadness.

“The most challenging part was saying goodbye to my family,” she explains. “Mexico is a very traditional and family-oriented country. So, it made it even more difficult to leave,” Johanna says of her early days in Canada. Even in recent years she experienced homesickness. 

For years, she traveled back and forth between Canada and Mexico visiting her family. After her father died following a four-and-a-half year battle with Leukemia, she brought her mother to Vancouverto live with her.  

Even though she has built a successful business that has received very positive coverage from some top Vancouver media outlets, it didn’t happen overnight.  Her family has always been a priority with her entrepreneurial ventures taking second position in her life. When her children were young, she wanted to be sure to stay home with them to savor those moments that no parent ever gets back if they miss them.  Between motherhood and life, she diligently took courses, such as sewing and pattern making at Vancouver Community College, which would help her achieve her business goals. After that she bought her first sewing machine and began applying what she had learned in class to what she already knew about leather.  Later, she enrolled in a screen printing class at Emily Carr.    It took ten years, but her business was finally ready to get off the ground.   

Johanna Anaya de Guevara is inspirational because she is the perfect example of what a person can achieve when their mind and heart are fully engaged in making it happen. Her passion translates into a beautiful collection of work that ranges in price from $20 for a small leather coin purses all the way up to $300 for a large leather tote bag.   Now that her e-commerce site is up and running at, for a limited time, Johanna is offering from 50-70%  off of all of her handbags.  Fashionistas can shop online or contact Johanna directly. 

Johanna and Her Husband Krystian Collaborate
to Create Custom Wallets for
La Vida es Bella Collection
While her handbags are made in Mexico, she and her husband have created a new special line of customized leather wallets for men and women. La Vida es Bella ( includes pieces that are simple, elegant, classic and well-constructed with exquisite satin linings.  The couple is involved in every facet of production of the wallets– from dying the vegetable-tanned leather, to cutting it and stitching it all together.  They will even personalize the pieces with names, initials–almost any personal touch a client wants.  The sister brand to the Anaya label continues to grow and they hope to add an even wider array of designs to its offerings. 

So what does the future hold for Anaya Leather?  Johanna Anaya de Guevara eventually hopes to offer her customers distinctive leather furniture and leather trunks. No matter how big the company gets, however, one thing remains certain–its owner will never forget how she got where she is and the level of dedication it took. So, if you live in ‘Rain City’ and decide to buy a special handmade piece from Anaya Leather, listen for your doorbell.  That ringing may just be Johanna hand-delivering your package since she loves to get to know each and every one of her customers.