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Colombiatex 2016: Fine Weaving of Business, Technology & Artistry

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The 28th annual Colombiatex textile-industry conference and trade show at Medellin’s Plaza Mayor convention center January 26-28 not only surpassed expectations in terms of business deals, trade-show space, new technologies, expert insights and fashion shows.

It also wowed 21,300 in-person show-floor attendees (up 12% year-on-year), another 9,960 in-person attendees for 26 related technical and business presentations, plus 46,000 “virtual” attendees (via Internet streaming) for the tech-talks jointly organized by Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB).

Among the show-floor attendees, 1,380 of them viewed 10 expert presentations on fashion trends emerging in 2016 and 2017, including a full-day special focus on denim wear.

Among the in-person attendees at Colombiatex were 1,700 international buyers (up 4% year-on-year) and 12,180 Colombian national buyers (up 19% year-on-year). Business deals arising from the show are now estimated at US$313 million -- up 2% over last year’s show, according to industry trade group Inexmoda, which organized the event.

Of the 510 exhibitors at the show, 43% were international. India led all foreign-exhibitor delegations with 15% representation, followed by Brazil (12%), Italy (11%), Spain (10%), and then Turkey and the United States (4%), according to Inexmoda.

In a press conference closing the show -- attended by scores of national and international journalists (including Medellin Herald) -- Inexmoda president Carlos Eduardo Botero revealed that 80% of buyers at the show planned to complete new business deals in the short-to-medium term, while 47% signed new deals during the show.

“This is a very positive moment for Colombian textile and clothing” manufacture, he said.

First-ever business deals arose between Colombian clothing manufacturers and buyers from the Bahamas and Barbados, he added. Among the other international buyers at the show, 25% were from Ecuador, 14% from Venezuela, 11% from Peru, 10% from Mexico, 9% from the United States and 5% from Brazil, he said.

Thanks in part to the devaluation of the Colombian peso versus the U.S. dollar, Colombian textile and clothing manufacturers are enjoying new economic competitiveness in world markets, Botero explained.

However, continuing innovations in design, investment in new technology, keen appreciation of fashion trends and a wide variety of products for various market segments have catapulted Colombian companies onto the world fashion stage, he added.

Colombian clothing and textile manufacturers also would benefit from a hoped-for free trade agreement (FTA) between Brazil and Colombia, he added. Such a deal would more-than compensate for the decline in sales to neighboring Venezuela and Ecuador, both of which have adopted protectionist, anti-free-market import policies.

Show Highlights

Among several outstanding presentations, technologies and trends revealed at Colombiatex 2016:

1. Inexmoda fashion-industry trends analyst Marta Calad showed how new art creations and emerging cultural trends are quickly being incorporated into clothing fashion.

One example: Younger clothing buyers are showing greater preference for “green” and “sustainable” products. So, Sweden-based “Nudie Jeans” is now offering in-store repairs of its jeans -- post-sale -- in order to extend the useful life of their customers’ jeanswear.

Innovative clothing designers also are drawing inspiration from the artistic creations in the Bogota Art District, the annual “Burning Man” creativity festival in the U.S., a “Bio-Dancing” trend, Amazon medicinal plant promotions, avant-garde music, astrology and pop psychology, Calad explained.

2. Colombia’s national SENA training institute showed-off its recent acquisition of the U.S.-made “TC2” full-body, three-dimensional scanner, which not only will be employed for training textile- and fashion-career students, but also could be adapted in the commercial world for ultra-precise tailoring and applications in exclusive, high-end clothing lines.

As SENA researcher Jorge Andres Cock explained to Medellin Herald, the scanner – combined with specialized software – would have an estimated total cost of around US$60,000.

As a result, such a system would be out-of-reach for most small-boutique clothing stores -- except for those catering to ultra-wealthy clients. However, the system might have potential by co-locating it at upscale malls where certain high-volume clothing retailers would offer exclusive, high-end clothing lines (hence justifying the system’s cost).

The scheme also might prove useful for clothing manufacturers looking to improve the accuracy and reliability of product sizing in all lines, since “small,” “medium” and “large” sizes can vary widely among clothing retailers and wholesalers.

3. “E-commerce” is growing rapidly in the retail clothing industry, even though consumers will want to touch and try-on clothes first, before moving to on-line purchasing, as U.S.-based industry consultant Meyyappan Lakshmanan explained in a presentation here.

While consumers in certain parts of Latin America show especially great reluctance to buy apparel on-line, Colombian consumers are relatively more willing to try it, he said.

As one major Colombian chain retailer pointed-out here, simply cloning brick-and-mortar retail stores often only increases costs -- and sometimes cannibalizes existing-store sales. In contrast, e-commerce offers the opportunity to expand sales at vastly lower investment cost. However, winning new-customer confidence and loyalty to your product line will require at least a few brick-and-mortar stores, Lakshmanan added.

3. The “Cotton USA Sourcing Program” exhibition at Colombiatex continued to attract buyers for USA-made threads, yarns and fabrics, taking advantage of the Colombia-USA free trade agreement (FTA) that took effect in 2012.

According to Cotton USA, the FTA resulted in an immediate 855% increase in U.S. cotton sales to Colombia, with 21,000 bales of U.S. cotton sold and US$12 million of cotton yarn exports to Colombia in 2012.

In an interview with Medellin Herald, Cotton Sourcing USA Colombia program director Catalina Rubiano explained that from 2014 to 2015, importation of USA cotton thread and yarn to Colombia rose 48% year-on-year -- with most of that material remaining in the Colombian domestic clothing market, as Colombian clothing exports rose only 13% over the same period.

In the last year, the U.S. took 12% of the total Colombian imports of cotton threads and yarn, with Indian taking 36% and China 19% of those imports. While India cotton is cheaper than U.S. cotton, the U.S. cotton is purer and has a higher quality, as required for higher-end export clothing markets.

Textile giants Coltejer, Fabricato and Crystal – all based in metro Medellin – are the major consumers of imported cotton (including U.S. cotton), she added.

Meanwhile, citing Colombian government DANE statistics, Cotton USA reported that Colombian exports of textiles and clothing to the U.S. rose 13% year-on-year through November 2015, hitting US$251.8 million.

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Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

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