Colombia is hoping to boost textile and clothing exports to $1bn by 2018 from $850m last year

Colombia is hoping to boost textile and clothing exports to $1bn by 2018 from $850m last year

Colombia's textiles and apparel industry is boosting innovation with a string of brands highlighting products featuring coffee-based fibres, slimming and quick-dry benefits during the recent Colombiamoda trade fair.

Textiles Lafayette introduced a new fibre made from coffee hulls dubbed Lastech Cafe that helps shield the skin from the sun. In turn, rival Protela, one of the biggest textile knitting and garment manufacturing companies in Colombia, promoted its Slimtex shapewear fabric boasting weight-loss properties.

"They are working with coffee bean hulls in very interesting ways," said Clara Henriquez, commercial director at industry lobby Inexmoda, adding that Lafayette is also spinning new value-added fabrics for its automotive and homewear textiles division.

Protela's Slimtex works with microcapsules that enhance fat burning as part of a dieting programme, marketing manager Silvia Moreno claimed, adding that several brands including Colombia's Fajate, employ it in their corsets.

Price quotes and Samples

She said the label hopes the line's sales will rise 5% this year, driven by buoyant exports to the US where buyers are turning their sights on Colombia, mainly due to the falling peso.

Moreno said Protela's other fibre featuring sun-blocking and quick-dry properties also witnessed strong interest from foreign buyers looking for textiles to manufacture beachwear, lingerie and activewear. "We are preparing price quotes and sending samples," Moreno said. "It's going to be a good year."

Other companies including Kelinda and True Shapers also rolled out new beachwear and control lingerie products during the four-day event. Called Magic Fit and 3 Structure/3 Plus, the flat stomach and waist shapers help eliminate body odour, the companies said.

Bullet-proof T-shirts

Colombiamoda, seen as Latin America's largest integrated textiles and fashion fair, had other highlights.

Security and military apparel firm Miguel Caballero generated buzz with the unveiling of a new bullet-proof T-shirt weighing 900 grams and fetching $1,500. The firm said it hopes to sell the product in Mexico (where President Enrique Pena Nieto is said to have ordered a few), the US and other international markets.

Then there was Sex Underwear which is also rolling out new micro-and-synthetic fibres with dry-fit and sun-blocking properties, in line with new international fashion trends. It is also developing new sustainable and eco-friendly prints and fibres, commerical manager and owner Angelica Cadavid said. She expects sales to rebound 15% to $300m this year, helped by a 5% and 20% hike in exports and domestic sales.

Cadavid said Sex Underwear signed new full-package contracts with Mexican hypermarket chain Soriana, and an unnamed US super-size brand. "They want us to make the full collection, from sketch to finished product, for their winter collection starting September," Cadavid said of Soriana.

$1 billion export goal

Despite rising manufacturing prices, international brands continue to see Colombia "as cheap as China but with better quality," Cadavid said. She added the falling peso is prompting many to look for new full-package contracts.

To achieve this, Colombian textiles have stepped up investment in new manufacturing equipment and technology including warpers, looms and threading machines to win new international business.

"There is a transformation spirit, a desire to invest to capitalise on the know-how," Henriquez said. "This is important because if they don't do this, brands won't have a future."

Daphne O'Donnel, president of women's apparel brand Iridium, shared that enthusiasm, saying she was impressed by the Colombian fabrics and fashion on display.

O'Donnel, looking for suppliers to move sourcing from Ecuador (where new import duties have raised her costs), said the nation "has great natural and technology fabrics with improving prints and probably the best bathing suits in the world."

The stealthy dollar is encouraging US and European buyers (with Spain's El Corte Ingles a newcomer to Colombiamoda and Zara Men, Calvin Klein and Nordstrom eyeing suppliers) to reconsider Colombian mills.

The government is so excited President Jose Manuel Santos said the industry must strive to boost exports to $1bn by 2018 from roughly $850m last year - though a far cry from roughly $2bn reached five years ago.

Fighting contraband

Meanwhile, the textiles and apparel industry hopes to grow 9% to 11% to nearly $18bn this year, down from a 14% hike in 2014, as a weakening domestic market offsets gains from exports seen rising 10% to $930m, Inexmoda president Carlos Eduardo Botero said.

Colombian brands dominate 80% of the local clothing market which should grow 7% to $17bn this year, he added.

The industry continues to suffer from contraband, which accounts for 30% of sales, though a new anti-contraband law enacted in July is expected to halve the trade in five years, according to Botero.