Lessons from Colombia’s Fashion Revolution

If you weren’t aware that Colombia had a vibrant fashion industry, no one can blame you. The country has been working hard to shake off its violence and instability image from its Pablo Escobar et al Narcos cocaine capital days. The country has begun to receive more international interest since 2009, with more fashion powerhouses such as Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, making their brand more accessible by opening up shop. With the air of peace, more Colombian’s are able to express their fashion sensibilities more openly than before. This freedom has also allowed the country to become a form of incubator for innovative and new players in the fashion industry such as designers and models.

[Image: Pagina/fashionrevolution.org]
[Image: Pagina/fashionrevolution.org]
However the country didn’t always have international favour. The period of violence delayed the international fashion brands arrival in Colombia, but it also gave the domestic brands a chance to flourish. In an interview with Business of Fashion, the Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar México & Latin América, Brenda Diaz de la Vega, says that, “[t]o a certain extent, it was an advantage because the local fashion industry was able to develop during these years. I think that if international brands would have arrived in Colombia ten years ago, the local talent would not have had the chance to show their work.” This new talent adds to an industry that has been rooted in garment and textile industry since the 1900s with companies such as Coltejer (1907), Compañía Antioqueña de Hilados y Tejidos (1907), Fá- brica de Tejidos de Rosellón (1915), Fabricato (1923), and Tejicondor (1934). So what lessons could we learn from their fashion industry that we as a country could try to implement to help with branding Kenya?

For starters their government recognized that their textiles and apparel market was a key economic contributor to the country’s success. It has 450 and 10,000 textile and garment manufacturing companies respectively. These companies contribute to 12 percent of the jobs created in the manufacturing industry; that translates to about 800,000 jobs.

For starters their government recognized that their textiles and apparel market was a key economic contributor to the country’s success. It has 450 and 10,000 textile and garment manufacturing companies respectively. These companies contribute to 12 percent of the jobs created in the manufacturing industry; that translates to about 800,000 jobs. In fact, According to Euromonitor International, between 2013 and 2018 it is estimated that the sector will generate approximately 870 million US dollars. This will be greatly dependant on events they host annually such as the fashion trade fair known as ColombiaTex as well as their biggest fashion week, ColombiaModa. These events showcase everything that Colombia has internally worked on or produced. This includes designers, fibre distributors, leather suppliers, textile manufacturers, and machinery, as well as finished products for the fashion industry.

ColombiaModa 2014 [Image: Jorge Duque/Zico Rodríguez]
ColombiaModa 2014 [Image: Jorge Duque/Zico Rodríguez]
ColombiaModa 2014 [Image: Jorge Duque/Zico Rodríguez]
ColombiaModa 2014 [Image: Jorge Duque/Zico Rodríguez]
ColombiaModa 2014 [Image: Jorge Duque/Zico Rodríguez]
ColombiaModa 2014 [Image: Jorge Duque/Zico Rodríguez]
These kind of events have been crucial in bringing together a supply and demand scenario that has proved effective for the industry. They not only show season trends, but also motivate both experienced and newbie designers, to find their identities and the aspects about themselves that can make them unique and recognized. Not to mention to encourage innovation that would capture the attention of a global market so that they can repeat their 1967 performance of having more exports than imports into the country. It’s also key to note that the huge steps taken to improve economic and political stability gave local consumers the much needed purchasing power boost to buy and support from the industry that has become known for its lingerie, denim and textiles.

Wayúu textile traditions are handed down from the older generation to the younger generation—typically from grandmothers to their granddaughters. [Image: courtesy of procraftinations.co.uk]
Wayúu textile traditions are handed down from the older generation to the younger generation—typically from grandmothers to their granddaughters. [Image: courtesy of procraftinations.co.uk]
Despite its textile history, it also understood the need to be dynamic and restructure the fashion industry to be competitive globally. Some of the principle trends it started to pursue were – but not limited to – :

  • Increasing internationalization in the textile and apparel sector and the emergence of international competitors.
  • Consolidation of the sector through merger, acquisitions, strategic alliances.
  • Re-evaluation of the business models to adapt to the customers´ changing taste.
  • Adoption of new technology to expand productivity and increase competitiveness.

Like many African countries, Colombia wasn’t prepared for the economic liberalization and thus was affected by new competition aka Asia. However, the manufacturing industry decided to overcome the crisis by implementing new strategies based on creativity and innovation. It was then deemed necessary to create an institute whose mandate was to follow fashion trends, investigate textile progress and unique fashion industry factors so that Colombian companies can be directed in the right direction. This institute would not only protect the interests of the cotton producing country, but also act as a link between the textile and garment manufacturers. The institute came to be known as INEXMODA (Institute for Export and Fashion).

[Image: courtesy of ColombiaTex]
[Image: courtesy of ColombiaTex]
Colombia continues to be a recognized country in terms of fashion due to its textile tradition, a centralized fashion hub centred around Medellín and a recognized garment manufacturing industry. It is this very foundation that gave local entrepreneurs such as Leonisa, Altamoda, Onda del Mar and Silvia Tcherassi  to create companies and have gone on to become household names at home and across Latin America. The country’s fashion strategy today goes beyond the designs and aims for recognition from international designers.

 

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