Beautiful lambskins with two faces11 February 2005
This is a family dedicated to the running of their tanning empire. In addition to John Colomer, a seventh generation tanner in his own right, there is his wife Isabel and their two sons Peter and John and daughter Isabel. His brother Ramon runs their raw skin trading company Comipel which, like the tanning side of the business, has grown over the years and diversified. There are three tanneries in the group in addition to the trading operation and, according to the Spanish tanners' association CEC-Fecur, La Doma are the second biggest tannery organisation in Spain. They are best known for their doubleface which can be found in any colour and a multitude of different finishes and textures, some so soft and silky that they compete with the fur trade. But they also make nappa and have just introduced a clothing leather which can be dyed in the washing machine at home. It all began around twenty years ago when the two brothers set up Comipel and began trading skins. However, tanning is in the blood and it was not long before they expanded into crust tanning by taking a 50% interest in the tannery of Tenerias del Pirineo in Barbastro who contract tan the skins. Their next venture was the purchase of a small tannery at La Garriga (near Barcelona) and conversion of production to finishing doubleface. La Doma had now been in existence and for seven years they worked three shifts/day, seven days/week. At Barbastro, initially they processed 500 skins/day from raw to crust but by reinvesting the profits the plant has been extended fivefold and throughput capacity increased to 13,000 skins/day. During the extension and refurbishment work the aim was to create the best doubleface installation in the world and to this end only the best materials were used. In additional to integral refrigerated storage, there is a separate building away from the tannery itself to house the boilers and electricity generation. Barbastro also contract tan for other companies and own 50% of the work in progress but they own no skins and La Doma retain ownership of their pelts at all times. As time went on La Doma, which is essentially a small tannery, although extraordinarily efficient given the constraints of lack of space, found they could no longer cope with finishing the sheer volume of crust coming their way. So fifteen years ago they bought the main factory in Centelles which had belonged to the Tipel/Picusa group by then unfortunately gone into liquidation. This was a complicated matter caused by bankruptcy proceedings which involved the Catalan authorities and the bank. It was time consuming and came with a number of conditions. In addition, the tannery brought with it derelict offices, obsolete machinery and an extremely difficult work flow. Production was carried out on five or six different levels with five separate lifts. It has taken time to create order out of this chaos, but the first move was to create a logical and harmonious work flow by reorganising production so that it could be carried out on only two levels and use only two lifts. In the early days, in order to create the layout the way they wanted it, they simply knocked down walls and steamed ahead. Some of the old buildings and all the unwanted machinery have gone and in 2001 they moved their offices from La Doma to newly constructed accommodation at the Centelles plant. Doubleface and nappa are produced at both La Doma and Centelles but Centelles is a much larger tannery and also has a department for special finishes. As always, raw to crust production remains at Barbastro. Here the effluent treatment plant has been expanded as production increased and environmental controls became more stringent. Raw skins are purchased in the winter and placed in the refrigerated storage facilites. This is because wool quality is at its best for doubleface production at this time of the year. Construction work on the much enlarged tannery at Barbastro began in 1996 and Colomer estimates that €12 million have been invested since then. They are still investing in the plant, but this has been at a lesser rate during the past five years. The old building there is now given over to nappa production. Before the Colomer brothers bought into Barbastro in 1984, the original factory, a single-storey building, processed 300 skins/day. By the time I last visited the site, in 1998, the bulk of the new construction work was completed but the huge buildings were still virtually empty. Now the buildings are full of equipment and production is in full swing. The project is about 95% complete but there is still a small amount of reorganisation taking place. When all the raw materials are stored, despite the size of the premises, there is a still shortage of space. Buying commences during January so when I visited this time, in October, 2004, stocks of raw hides were considered to be low - only 400,000. The tannery will be full to bursting by June when all the raw skins have been delivered. At this time of the year there will be 1,600,000 skins in stock or in production and the three refrigerated warehouses will be crammed to capacity. In all, 13,000 crust skins leave daily from Barbastro with 8,000 skins, including nappa, going to Centelles and a further 5,000 arriving at La Garriga. A further €8 million has been invested in the reorganisation and reconstruction at the Centelles site. Now that administration has been transferred there the name of La Doma is now based at Centelles and the original tannery at La Garriga has been renamed Curtigala (Curtidos La Garriga). The Centelles tannery now bears little resemblance to its former incarnation. It is a well run and efficient plant with a new slant on overhead drying as in certain parts of the tannery the rails of skins literally disappear into the roof spaces. And there are still plans to rebuild the old offices and improve the showrooms and grading area. This will involve a degree of demolition and reconstruction. Certainly, no grass is being allowed to grow under the busy feet of the La Doma operation. John Colomer has this to say: 'This year in the factory of La Doma SA de Curtidos, in Centelles, we will continue to develop new articles, new colours and new finishes in doubleface and nappa. In our selection of special finishes, we have already started studying new collections for 2006-2007 which will be based in more colours and light finishings. 'At this moment we are producing more than 1,200 articles and more than 1,200 different colours and even with all this we plan to have more things to show to our customers in the way of new designs and developments for garments.'