San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Leather Worker Produces Fine Goods in Atenas

From buffalo to ostrich and snake, there is no type of leather with which Canadian native Guylaine Barrette has not worked in the past 20 years.

Based in Atenas, a coffee town northwest of San José, the certified leather worker and teacher designs and creates fine handmade leather goods. Barrette manufactures everything from stylish totes, handy backpacks and elegant belts to sophisticated briefcases, useful accessories, purses, wallets and colorful leather bindings. Inspired by the Bauhaus and art nouveau styles, her customized products exude her dedication to the highest quality standards and her passion for the craft.

“Leather is luxurious, precious and noble. It is the skin of an animal, a demanding material that ages with style. To make something of good quality, you have to have a lot of experience, and you need to know your craft well,” says the vivacious 47-year-old, who markets her products under the pseudonym Gya Barra.

Humans have used leather for thousands of years as an important material with unlimited possibilities. It is a renewable resource, created through the tanning of animal hides, pelts or skins. The best-quality leathers are gained from the uppermost layer of the hide or skin, where the hair of the animal was.

“Calfskin is my favorite because it is flexible and young, providing the pieces with a perfect look,” Barrette says.

For leather care in the tropics, she recommends keeping the pieces in a ventilated place, checking them regularly. Leather should be stored away from heat, and not needlessly exposed to sunlight. Mold must be removed with a slightly damp cloth. If desired, leather cream can be used once or twice a year.

Barrette began her career as a craftswoman at the age of 19. The handmade cloth bag she had given her sister for Christmas was such a success that she began to produce handcrafted items for family and friends.

She started selling her products and experimenting with all kinds of handicrafts, from batik to ceramics.

On a trip to Europe, the avid traveler met Bernard Giossi, a Swiss fashion designer, who asked her to make the accessories for his next showing. Until the successful show in Geneva in 1984, Barrette had been selftaught.

While working with different kinds of materials, she discovered the potential of leather and wanted to make a living out of it. She decided to go back to Canada to learn the craft at Centre des Metiers du Cuir de Montréal, a leatherworking center in the province of Quebec.

Barrette, who later taught at the center for six years, continued to work for the fashion industry. She set up her own workshop in Montreal and took part in exhibitions and competitions.

“To me, working with leather is like building something,” the craftswoman says. “It allows me to play with materials and colors.”

After going back and forth between Canada and Costa Rica for 10 years, Barrette and her husband, Andrés Studer, a Swiss painter and designer, decided to settle in Atenas permanently (TT, Feb. 10, 2006). The couple’s latest joint project is entitled “Molusco” (“Mollusk”), a three-dimensional sitting object designed by Studer and manufactured by Barrette, who is currently developing the prototype.

“‘Mollusk’ first appeared in one of my husband’s paintings,” Barrette says. “It can be used as a chair, stool or sculpture. There are many ways to move it, and you can still sit on it.We’re using our ‘Mollusks’ every day to relax, read or watch TV.”

For more information about Barrette’s fine leather goods, or to place an order, contact the leather worker at


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