Mexicos fashion-forward plan is seen as a weapon against imports from China

Mexico's fashion-forward plan is seen as a weapon against imports from China

Mexico is working to grow and internationalise its fashion industry - but observers say it faces huge challenges to achieve that goal.

Top textiles and apparel industry lobby Canaive (Mexico's National Chamber of Apparel Industry) has been working to transform the apparel sector into a purveyor of more fashionable apparel instead of basic clothing for export to the US.

As part of this process, it recently established a Fashion Council made up of a 24-member technical leadership committee led by Mexican fashion expert Anna Fusoni and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week's director Beatriz Calles.

And in a sign the industry is gaining government clout, it recently wooed financing to build a National Center for Innovation and Fashion in Pachuca, just south sprawling Mexico City, in late 2015.

The facility will help textile and apparel makers research and develop new products modelled on international fashion trends, introduce cutting-edge manufacturing technologies and issue regulations to help propel the industry's growth, according to Canaive's president Sergio Lopez de la Cerda.

On his watch, his team has also launched a plan to forge a more integrated textiles, apparel, footwear, leather and accessories circuit to help Mexico achieve its fashion objectives.

Uphill battle
The fashion-forward initiative is seen as a crucial weapon against soaring imports from China. These continue to dent local producers' fortunes in a country weighed down by a huge illegal-goods trade (called 'Mexico's cancer) which accounts for 60% of annual apparel sales, despite years of fruitless campaigns to eradicate it.

Mexico faces an uphill battle in achieving the plan, however. Crucially, observers said the state must step up investment to help train and develop new designers to lure private investors.

"The industry needs to professionalise itself and Promexico (the exports lobby) has to give more money to help take designers abroad," said Jesus Guzman, brand manager of Swiss luxury footwear label Bally.

Guzman noted Promexico should spend at least $30,000 to promote a particular designer in an international trade fair instead of $6,000-$10,000 now. Up-and-coming brands need $500m-$1bn to start developing, he noted, but there are no investors willing to fork out the funds.

A buyer at Mexican luxury department-store chain El Palacio de Hierro agreed state support is pivotal.

"The fashion sector has been trying to take off for 18 years but the designers are still mainly sewing," she said. "If the government doesn't help them, they'll never get there."

Promexico must also do more to bring international buyers to Mexico, the executive noted. "You have to invest to invite them or they are not going to come alone," she added.

Designer support
To be fair, Promexico recently teamed with MBFWMx to bring a team of French buyers to the country, an effort that culminated with the selection of several star creators that will be promoted in the next Paris Fashion Week. Alejandro Carlin, Sandra Weil, Alexia Ulibarri and Simple by Trista are expected to be in the group.

However, experts said the partnership was mainly pushed by MBFWMx which had to heavily coax Promexico to engage its Parisian office in the venture.

Promexico would not comment but insiders said the lobby hopes to increase designer support in the near future.

Cristina Pineda, owner of luxury brand Pineda Covalin said designers must also step up to the plate. "Designers need to become more responsible and better businesspeople," she noted. "More than a designer, I have become a businesswoman, doing everything from accounting to legal work."