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Written by February 10 2018 0

Starting humbly from a garage workshop in 1971, Medellin-based clothing manufacturer Creytex has since become an especially successful innovator in the fiercely competitive global textile/clothing business.

It’s an exceptional story, as most local textile and clothing manufacturers here experienced sharp declines last year in the Colombian domestic market -- due mainly to a hike in value-added tax, combined with a national economic slow-down.

But amazingly, Creytex actually boosted its 2017 domestic sales by 20% year-on-year -- and simultaneously boosted profit margins– thanks to exceptional market intelligence, high technology, enthusiastic leadership, motivated employees, and a novel “fast fashion” production system, as company managing director Lina Bustamante revealed to Medellin Herald in an exclusive February 9 interview here.

However, international sales volume dipped last year when one of Creytex’s major international buyers -- with whom it had been supplying for nearly 12 years -- strategically switched production to a proprietary factory in Asia.

That switch wasn’t entirely unexpected, as Bustamante explained. Reason: This big buyer had been gradually withdrawing from various contract manufacturers and shifting production to proprietary factories for “commodity” clothing items where lowest-cost -- rather than fast-fashion -- is the deciding factor.

Even though Colombian textile/clothing production costs are much lower than costs in the USA or Europe, Colombia is still relatively costly -- if price alone is the over-riding factor – compared to certain Asian and Middle-Eastern producers, and even some Central American producers (such as Honduras), Bustamante explained.

So, to stay competitive in the domestic and global clothing business, Creytex has to specialize in “fast fashion” -- and avoid “commodity” production, she added.

Intelligent Evolution

As a result of losing that international “commodity” clothing buyer last year, Creytex now exports about 60% -- down from 70% previously -- of its nearly 4 million clothing items produced here annually, mainly to the U.S. market. The other 40% mainly goes to the Colombian domestic market as well as to nearby South American and Central American markets.

Celebrating its 47th anniversary this year, family-owned Creytex – along with Medellin-based technology partner Inn Solutions (which shares office space at Creytex) – showed-off a miniature version of their “intelligent factory/fast-fashion” system to more than 22,000 attendees at the annual Colombiatex 2018 textile-industry congress here last month.

The novel technologies Creytex employs include the “3Dress” computer-based fashion design system from Italy-based MorganTecnica, which features three-dimensional, on-screen “avatars” that substitute for conventional mannequins or live models in design and development work.

This novel system enables flexible design creations, fitment validations and subsequent adjustments in just hours or minutes– hence cutting many days, weeks or even months from older, conventional development-and-approval cycles in clothing-fashion design.

What’s more, this “3Dress” system also can transmit the final design instructions electronically to computer-driven stamping, sublimation and cutting machines on the factory floor, followed by “lean” final assembly by highly skilled seamstresses -- all overseen by an automated “Shopfloor” software-control system.

This novel system is now run by highly skilled Creytex employees -- with technical help from Inn Solutions and its bilingual (English-Spanish) general manager, Juan Pablo Mejia.

Leading the charge here is the ever-smiling, infectiously enthusiastic Bustamante, who inspires a team of 400 direct workers at Creytex’s clean, quiet, friendly, high-tech factory totaling 7,000-square-meters, spread-out over four floors. (The company also has additional indirect workers producing certain items at satellite workshops near Medellin).

Creytex not only designs and produces clothing for both domestic and international markets – touting a special expertise in needle-point knitting -- but also produces its own textiles, another key factor responding to the “fast fashion” trend sweeping global clothing markets.

In years past, many of Medellin’s small-to-medium-sized enterprises (including Creytex) had depended heavily (or even exclusively) upon giant textile manufacturers (such as Coltejer and Fabricato) to supply feedstock textiles.

But the ever-growing “fast fashion” trend means that manufacturers like Creytex can’t wait weeks or months for certain critical supplies from big textile makers – and retailers likewise no longer can sustain excess inventories or suffer heavy mark-downs to move excess product that’s growing “stale.”

So, as part of its novel fast-fashion production system, Creytex instead makes its own textiles, including numerous blends of cotton and synthetic fibers, for example. This system boosts efficiency, cuts losses, cuts production time, avoids costly subcontracting, increases control and enables greater volume production and higher margins, Bustamante explained.

While “low-cost” Asian producers might out-compete Medellin producers on cost in “commodity” clothing, Creytex has multiple advantages with its “fast fashion” system – including low-cost, fast-delivery air freight from Medellin to Miami, she said.

This system can quickly deliver “high-demand” fashion items -- from design to production to delivery in Miami -- in just days, rather than the months-long delays typical of Asian manufacturers shipping to the U.S. market.

Batch Production

What’s more, Creytex can design, produce and deliver such “high-demand” items in customized, limited, serial batches – responding quickly to demand changes -- rather than producing and delivering huge (but slow-to-market) volumes that are typical of “commodity” producers.

In addition, Creytex now electronically gathers and analyzes customer demand at individual stores in Colombia, so that it can quickly respond to demand changes and adjust production for individual clothing items – avoiding inventory excesses and improving net profit margins.

“Fast fashion has to include the whole chain,” from design, to production, to shipping, to demand response, as well as employment of smart-technology and smart management, Bustamante explained.

“This is not a volume business. It’s about having the ideal product, in the ideal place, at the ideal time. And mass production can’t account for all markets. You also have to account for seasons, climates and the [socio-economic demographics] of each shop. This requires [investment in] more data analysis, but it also means better profitability.”

For the Colombian domestic market, Creytex has its own, proprietary leisure-wear and children’s-wear brands (“Belife” and “Baby Planet”), whereas its principal international buyers (mainly for leisure, performance and life-style wear) include Columbia, Concepts Sport, Gear for Sport, Little Me, Camp David, Pelo and Ripley, she said.

Beyond employment of high technology for “fast fashion,” Creytex also meets strict international standards for responsible social and environmental practices, as measured by buyers’ own periodic audits – such as the “Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production” (“WRAP”) protocol, she said.

Visitors to the Creytex facilities see more than just compliance with standards. They have been surprised by the clean, quiet, friendly, well-organized worker environment -- something not always seen in certain Asian or Middle-Eastern clothing factories, where conditions can almost resemble Medieval despair.

About which Bustamante remarked: “I’ve had clients tell me, ‘your employees look happy!”

However, continuous motivation and retention of skilled workers isn’t easy – especially in an age when many younger people would rather seek employment in (for example) call-centers rather than clothing factories, Bustamante told us.

While Medellin has a more-than-100-years-long history of industry leadership in textiles, clothing and fashion – and can boast of now having several generations of highly skilled textile/clothing workers – being successful in clothing manufacture today also requires exceptionally intelligent, inspiring leadership.

That’s why Creytex employs a “coach” at each sewing station to encourage and teach workers, and also includes a bonus system for exceptionally productive employees.

Bottom line: Competing successfully in international and domestic clothing markets with fast response, precision quality, close attention to profitability, market intelligence and socially responsible operations is an evolving process.

Creytex first began exporting 15 years ago – at a time when many industry experts told Bustamante that achieving success from Medellin in such foreign markets was dubious.

But clients visiting Creytex today will be greeted by Bustamante’s winning smile, warm intelligence, the voice of experience, and see impressive operations. Likely as not, they'll probably come away with proof that after more than 100 years of major textile/clothing/fashion experience, leading Medellin entrepreneurs still can compete successfully in one of the world’s toughest businesses.

Written by February 09 2018 0

Cemex Colombia fourth quarter (4Q) 2017 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) fell 20% year-on-year, to US$30 million, Cemex Latam Holdings (CLH) announced February 8.

Net sales for the CLH-Colombia division also fell 12% year-on-year, to US$134 million, according to the company.

For CLH's regional operations, “during the fourth quarter [2017] our working capital investment remained in negative territory for seventh consecutive quarter, with minus-14 average working capital days. During this period, we achieved negative trade working capital in our operations in Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador,” the company explained.

CLH’s net sales in the region for full-year 2017 declined 6% year-on-year, “mostly explained by lower cement volumes and prices in Colombia. As a result, operating EBITDA declined by 15% and 27% during the fourth quarter and the full year, respectively, compared to those of the same periods in 2016,” according to the company.

“Despite the positive traction of our value-before-volume strategy in Colombia, where our cement prices in December were about 3.5% higher than they were in June of 2017, as well as the positive results in Costa Rica and our rest-of-CLH region, during the [fourth] quarter not only cement price levels in Colombia continued well below those of last year, but also national cement consumption in Colombia and Panama remained subdued,” added Cemex Latam CEO Jaime Muguiro.

According to CLH, EBITDA “was negatively affected as our cement prices in Colombia declined by 12% and 19%, in local-currency terms, during the fourth quarter and full year, respectively, compared to those of the same periods in 2016.”

However, “in Colombia, after four consecutive quarters of declines in our cement prices, in local currency terms, they increased by 2% during the fourth quarter, on a sequential basis. Our successful cost containment efforts in Colombia helped us partially offset the negative effect of lower demand for our products in the country,” CLH added.

Maceo, Antioquia Plant Awaits License OK

Meanwhile, Cemex’s US$420 million cement plant in Maceo, Antioquia, continues to lack a crucial operating permit that would enable start-up at its rated capacity of 1.3 million tonnes per year. The company has expressed hopes that the permit snag could be overcome by year-end 2018.

Written by January 28 2018 0

Medellin-based multinational retail giant Exito is enjoying ever-greater success with its “Didetexco” clothing manufacture/export subsidiary – even in the face of Colombia’s  competitive problems with illegal, below-cost, and unethical clothing vendors (mainly exporting from Asia).

In a presentation to the Colombiatex 2018 annual show here January 23, Didetexco general manager Ramiro Arango and fashion coordinator Juliana Rincon pointed to tremendous growth in the division’s production, sales and exports – with 97% of clothing for Exito’s domestic and foreign markets made right here in Colombia.

“To ‘democratize’ fashion is our goal, with everyday-low-prices and sustainability,” Arango said.

The Didetexco clothing division – launched here in 1949 by Exito founder Gustavo Toro Quintero – initially tapped relatively low-cost supplies (scraps and remains from Medellin’s major textile manufacturers) and also provided dignified labor for seamstresses coming from vulnerable economic sectors.

Today’s business model for Didetexco involves tapping “sinerproveedores” – that is, scores of independent workshops in many Colombian towns and cities (including municipalities in Antioquia). These workshops employ some 9,000 directly or indirectly, mostly female heads-of-households.

While these workers aren’t direct employees of Exito, Didetexco nevertheless ensures that these workers receive all legal Colombian salary and benefits packages – in contrast to certain Asian countries that unethically employ slave-like child labor in clothing manufacture, dump toxic chemical byproducts, or sell to third parties that might be laundering illegal drug money by importing below-cost clothing.

In 2017, Didetexco’s “sinerproveedores” produced 33 million items of clothing -- up 153% since 2015 -- with 2.79 million of those units sold for export, up 390% since 2015, Arango boasted here.

For Exito, having Didetexco enables expansion of its domestic clothing retail sales to its recently acquired retail chains in Argentina and Uruguay -- via clothing exports from Colombia -- as well as to Brazil, which until recently (December 2017) had tariffs that made it cheaper to export designs rather than clothes.

However, thanks to a new free-trade agreement (eliminating tariffs on clothes), it’s possible that Exito in future could export at least some clothes from Colombia to Brazil.

The Didetexco subsidiary also is now exporting clothes from Colombia to France as well as to Africa, Arango showed.

Thanks to special agreements between Didetexco and several well-known clothing designers (including Silvia Tcherassi), Exito clothing brand-names now include Arkitect, Bronzini, People, Bluss, Custer, Myst lingerie, WKD, Coqui, Carrel, Eventi and Ama’s.

Besides having strong brand names, other competitive advantages enjoyed by Didetexco/Exito include: mid- and long-term deals with the “sinerproveedores;” strong capacity and expertise in exporting; creative designers; strong knowledge of fashion trends; seasonal product lines; “complete package” products; strong marketing and communications; ethical labor and environmental practices; aggressive brand promotion; strong controls on product supply in response to demand; and growing consumer awareness, Arango said.

In addition, “we can react fast and produce fast” in response to changing fashion trends, he said. “From runway to retail, we do fast turnaround. You can’t do that with Bangladesh or China,” even though those countries may offer relatively cheap costs for clothing -- but can't offer fast shipping.

The Didetexco business model also employs a firm “gross margin return on investment” (GMROI) policy that ensures relatively fast inventory rotation, as products will go straight from factories to stores, not to warehouses, he said.

“We also fight [alongside Colombia’s fellow law-abiding clothing makers] to ensure just import duties, so that we can formalize more jobs,” he added.

Written by January 19 2018 0

Medellin business-development agency Agencia de Cooperación e Inversión de Medellín y el Área Metropolitana (ACI) announced January 19 that Switzerland-based multinational consultant Amaris plans to expand its Colombian and South American operations following start-up of new offices at Medellin’s “Ruta N” high-tech hosting center.

“Teamwork between ACI Medellín, Ruta N and ProColombia, managed to consolidate the presence of this company in the country,” according to ACI.

Amaris – now operating through 65 offices in 50 countries, with some 700 corporate clients – chose Medellin for expansion because of the “innovative environment offered by the city and its strategic geographical location to support its other offices in the provision of recruitment services, human resources, administration, finance and technical support,” according to ACI.

“Ruta N offered us a pleasant work environment,” added Sara Mondragón, platform manager at Amaris Medellin. “Thanks to the other [high-tech] companies installed [here], we are surrounded by an innovative and challenging environment. We constantly interact with the members of other foreign companies that are part of the Ruta N ecosystem” and “we see an excellent opportunity to benefit from their knowledge of the Colombian market.

“To make this decision we made an analysis of the environment and the quality of life in Latin America. Medellín was the best decision [considering] cost, safety, quality of life, institutional support and human talent,” Mondragón concluded.

Amaris -- founded in Switzerland in 2007 -- specializes in business-administration consulting, information technology, telecommunications, engineering, biotech and pharmaceutical sectors.

“With a turnover of €187 million [US$228 million], its goal in 2018 is to reach a team of 5,000 employees -- currently amounting to 3,650 -- and thus ratify itself as a world leader in independent consulting,” according to the company.

Written by December 31 2017 0

Medellin-based multinational power giant EPM announced December 29 that it won a US$1 billion credit from the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) “Invest” funding subsidiary for debt finance of its 2.4-gigawatt, US$5 billion “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project in Antioquia.

The credit package includes payback terms of eight-to-12 years. Draws would take place during a four-year period, virtually completing 100% of Hidroituango project finance, according to EPM.

Commenting on the deal, EPM general manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta said the finance package is of “profound significance” for the company as it ensures broader funding diversity.

As a result of the latest deal, 36% of Hidroituango finance will come from EPM’s own resources with the other 64% from debt sources.

Winning IDB backing not only represents debt diversification but also means that major international lenders fully recognize EPM’s technical, social, environmental and financial capacity, he added.

The US$1 billion package includes US$50 million from the Chinese government, US$300 million from IDB and US$650 million from private international banks including Sumitomo Mitsui, BNP Paribas, BBVA, Banco Santander, CDPB, KFW PEX and ICBC, according to EPM.

The Hidroituango project is now 80% complete with the first 300 megawatts of power output scheduled to start at year-end 2018, according to the company.

EPM is 100% owned by the city of Medellin and now operates throughout Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panamá, Chile and México, providing electric power, natural gas, drinking water and sewage treatment systems.

Page 6 of 11

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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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