Colombia's men's wear market is growing strongly as men's purchasing power rises in a booming economy. Several brands, notably Spain's Inditex under its Zara and Massimo Dutti labels, have taken heed and are muscling in the country, observers said. H&M is also expected to arrive soon.

Underscoring the market's potential, men's wear sales rose 4% last year, accounting for 44% of the South American country's domestic market and outstripping the women's market which comprised 38%. In 2011, the market is forecast to grow 5% to COP4.5bn.

"We were very surprised to see this result, especially in Colombia where there are more women than men and where female apparel has traditionally led sales," Paula Trujillo, director of competitiveness and internationalisation at the Institute for Export and Fashion Inexmoda, told just-style.

"We have seen the market take off in recent years as Colombian men have become more attuned to fashion and are demanding more premium and lifestyle products, especially in footwear and leather goods, but also in beauty and nutraceuticals."

Trujillo expects the industry to grow at a similar rate this year as brands lift their prices to offset soaring global raw material costs.

"Because of Colombia's strong economy (forecasts put GDP growth at 4-5% in 2011, adding to several years of similar growth), clothing demand will likely to remain buoyant, despite higher prices, Trujillo predicted.

"We have a very dynamic economy and rising consumer confidence and appetite for fashion," she added.

Competition heats up
To stay ahead of the curve, a string of national brands have also sketched ambitious expansion plans. According to Trujillo, men's wear chain Vestimundo is pursuing an ambitious domestic and international expansion while sportswear chain Tennis is also engaged in a similar strategy.

Upscale underwear chain Intimo is also muscling abroad while luxury shoe purveyor Cueros Velez is fast becoming a leading brand.

Meanwhile, leading menswear chain Arturo Calle is also spreading its wings. It plans to open five shops by 2013 as it strives to maintain its dominance, owner Arturo Calle said. The 57-store chain is also working to enter international markets in late 2012 with a view to opening franchised outlets in South or Central America.