Speaking candidly, Carlos Eduardo Botero, president of Inexmoda, which produces Colombiatex, said, “We cannot compete with Asia in terms of basics, so if we want to succeed, we really have to compete in products that are more value added.”
Nearly 10,000 buyers from 51 countries and Colombia visited close to 500 exhibitors showcasing textiles, raw materials, trims, machinery and chemicals for the apparel and home industries from Jan. 27-29.
VF Corporation’s Panama-based director of sourcing for North Face, Hector Tock, attended the show in Colombia, where the brand already sources product, in search of those quality, value added textiles for North Face’s technical garments.
“Their [Colombia’s] offering goes beyond the basics,” Tock said. “There are a lot of performance products with different kinds of properties you can apply to the garment.”
He added, “It’s easy to find reliable sources here that will deliver quality and on-time.”
Lead times in Colombia hover right around 30 days, with reorders coming in in as little as two weeks, prime for the increasing need for faster fashion and part of the reason behind the trend toward near sourcing.
One buyer hailing from South Korea traveled to Colombiatex namely for the high quality, technical fabrics on offer in the country for use in uniforms.
Cost has been a thorn in the side of Colombia’s textile sector as workers are paid roughly $500 per month including insurance and related benefits like health, compared to wage rates in low-cost nations like Bangladesh’s roughly $68 monthly, making overall garment costs higher.
The country’s peso has had a turbulent history, and though better than it has been in recent years, Colombia’s currency was one of the worst performers against the U.S. dollar. One dollar today gets $2,378 Colombian pesos, making goods in the country cheaper for U.S. buyers and more globally competitive.
But what Colombia can’t accommodate in costs, it is working to make up for in innovation. Companies like Lafayette are developing performance fabrics made from traditionally discarded coffee skins with natural sun protection and moisture wicking. At Protela, which partners with Prointimos for a full package offering is developing nylon micro fiber for active with digital printing on circular knit mesh as athletic wear transitions to everyday wear.
“That is the trend—that combination between fashion and technology,” Luz Adriano, who manages the knowledge and training programs for Inexmoda, said.
What’s next for Colombia, though, will be to expand its innovative offerings in the U.S.
Adriano stressed the country’s need to grow its exports to the U.S., noting honestly that competing with American brands is no simple task. But one regional trade bloc could help sustain growth for the region, she said.
The Pacific Alliance is a trade agreement established in 2012 between Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru that reduces tariffs for goods exchanged between the four nations. Costa Rica initiated the process for joining the Alliance in February 2014 and is reported to be on its way to becoming the bloc’s fifth member.
And use of that collaboration could be key to expanding the textile sector in the region.
“Peru has cotton, Mexico has good experience exporting to the U.S. and good prices, and Colombia has good designs,” Adriano said. “If we work together, we can succeed together.”