Carlos Botero, executive president of Inexmoda

Carlos Botero, executive president of Inexmoda

Colombia's textiles and apparel industry is set to grow 7% to $9bn in 2014, buoyed by strong domestic sales. The forecast comes as sourcing and fashion fair Colombiamoda raised $308m in its 25th edition, after a three-in-one integration bet proved a wise investment.

According to Carlos Botero, executive president of top trade lobby Inexmoda, the burgeoning apparel sector will see a 10% gain as Colombian consumers continue to increase apparel purchases, including products made by local designers and brands.

However, exports, a key pillar behind industry growth a few years ago, are disappointing.

"We are not doing as well as we wish," Botero says, referring to the country's long-running yet slow-moving efforts to broaden exports to Latin America, the US and Europe. "There have been some difficulties in key markets including Ecuador, which recently introduced import red tape."

Regarding Venezuela, once Colombia's biggest trade partner until political relations cooled, Botero says: "They are interested in buying more from us but they still can't find a way to pay us."

According to Botero, trade with the neighbouring nation has dropped to $170m from $1bn in 2009.

Botero says sales to other top partners Mexico and the US have also sagged, though this is more a result of brands' efforts to court new domestic consumers. As local players step up manufacturing, imports are set to gain strongly, Botero believes.

"There is a big focus on the internal market which will grow 10% because the middle class is growing," he explains. "In the past seven years, income per capita has more than doubled to $7,000 from $3,000."

Despite a buoyant local market, Botero says the industry must continue to diversify its exports.

"There are opportunities in Mexico and the US. If we could go back to the numbers we had with the US in 2005, that would be great."

Colombia now exports around $200m to the world's largest market, down form $600m nine years ago, largely due to cut-throat Chinese and Asian competition.

Colombiamoda raises $300m
The comments came as Colombian sourcing and fashion fair Colombiamoda raised $308m in its 25th edition, as a three-in-one integration bet proved a wise investment.

"This year we are seeing how the incorporation of Textiles 2 and the greater integration of Colombiamoda and Moda para el Mundo are benefiting our fashion system," says Botero, executive president of fair promoter Colombiamoda.

Colombiamoda, which launched Textiles 2 to build a stronger sourcing platform for the fair, raised $221m, up 19% from last year - while other sourcing platform Moda Para El Mundo saw potential business contracts jump 22%. 

Overall, the Colombiamoda + Textiles 2 + Moda Para El Mundo arrangement generated $308m in potential sourcing contracts, up 23% from last year. The fair attracted 9,000 buyers of which over 1,500 were foreign, arriving mainly from the US, Mexico and Venezuela to snap up swimwear and sportswear, two of Colombia's top apparel exports.

The event, held last week in Medellin, Colombia, wooed 61,000 visitors. There was a big focus on technical textiles and several industry conferences. The event also featured 29 runways, of which 20 featured emerging designer labels. 

Meanwhile, the fair's Knowledge Pavilion saw 65 brands meet with 150 investors from 16 countries to strike franchising deals, joint ventures and strategic alliances. 

Under the "Transcender Limites" [Transcending Limits] marketing banner, organisers said Colombiamoda is working to "position Colombia as a Latin American fashion and business platform, encouraging executives to forge alliances to reach "high levels of innovation, sustainability and competitiveness."

Strong vertical integration
Executives said the fair is succeeding in that goal, with its strong vertical integration setting it apart from the Sao Paulo and Rio Fashion Weeks in Brazil, which take place more independently. Mexico Fashion Week is viewed as a much smaller event in need of huge expansion and investment, while most other Latin American countries don't have linked-up fashion weeks and sourcing fairs.

Colombian retailers are also making a mark. Studio F, a fast-growing women's retailer, generated a lot of buzz after mounting one of the event's best runway shows to commemorate its 20th anniversary. The brand has announced plans to operate 500 Latin American stores in five years in a feat that will bolster its presence in Mexico, Central and South America.

Studio F is joined by other Colombian retailers eyeing international growth, including luxury swimwear brand Onda de Mar and jeanswear firm Tennis.

According to Botero, Colombiamoda has grown from a single, $100m fair five years ago to lure over $300m today, boosting its economic contribution to Medellin, the capital of Colombia's textiles and apparel industry. 

Colombiamoda is an addition to Colombiatex, the sourcing and business focused fair that Inexmoda also organises in Medellin every year.