Venezuelas apparel manufacturers are scrambling to bolster exports to offset a contraction in the countrys economy of up to 15% last year and its worst political crisis in history

Venezuela's apparel manufacturers are scrambling to bolster exports to offset a contraction in the country's economy of up to 15% last year and its worst political crisis in history

As political chaos continues to engulf crisis-stricken Venezuela, the country's textile and apparel industry is on the verge of collapse – with both sales and exports expected to plummet this year.

Eleven years ago, a leading Venezuelan executive told just-style his country's textile and apparel industry would gradually disappear amid mounting political and economic woes

He was right.

As political chaos continues to engulf the crisis-stricken South American country, the industry is on the verge of collapse. Sales and exports are expected to plummet this year, with the political opposition's "zero hour" campaign of civil disobedience to reject a crucial constitutional vote on 30 July adding salt to the wound.

Recession-hit manufacturers and retailers also faced a 24-hour civic strike on Thursday (20 July) that saw thousands of workers down tools to join additional demonstrations.

Already, textile and apparel suppliers have posted deep losses as 100 days of protests triggered by President Maduro's plans to rewrite the constitution to give him absolute powers have reportedly left 96 people dead, 1,500 wounded and 500 government opponents in jail.

Amid the deepening turmoil, Trump on Monday threatened the oil-producing nation with "strong and swift economic actions" if Maduro presses ahead with his plans to create a super-legislature known as a Constituent Assembly on 30 July that would strip the opposition of its powers, essentially creating a dictatorship.

Maduro has insisted Venezuelans approve the process and says he will proceed with it, despite a symbolic referendum last Sunday (16 July) in which 7.5m Venezuelans voted against it, according to the opposition.

Jeantex restructures

Ruby Bautista, marketing director of denim maker Jeantex, says retail sales are expected to fall over 30% this year as consumers shun clothing against basic food and household items amid critical shortages that have fuelled hunger strikes. According to recent research, 93% of Venezuelans cannot afford enough food and 73% have lost weight in the past year.

Bautista says ransacking in the Maracai area temporarily hit production but insists the company's factories, which also make goods for its Telares Maracai fabrics unit, continue to produce normally.

"We have tightened security but we need to meet our export commitments" as domestic sales falter. Bautista says the firm has quickly restructured to boost exports to markets like Peru, Colombia and Brazil, which are buying its products amid the collapsing bolivar, now trading at $9,000 on the black market from $1,000 about a year ago.

That said, the firm recently postponed plans to partner with the Dominican Republic's Grupo M to begin exporting jeans to the US where it does not yet have a presence.

Telares Maracai eyes jeanswear venture with Grupo M

Jeantex now exports 60% of its production and sells 40% locally versus the opposite ratio just a few years ago, Bautista explains.

Jeantex's export focus have allowed it to obtain additional dollars to purchase imports as the Maduro regime keeps a tight grip of the US currency to control the economy. The currency restrictions, however, have strangled other producers, which are unable to import feedstocks to make apparel for domestic sale, essentially bankrupting them.

"The industry continues to collapse and this year is only going to get worse," says one consultant, who requested anonymity. He adds more jobs – of a 27,000-strong industry – will probably go alongside more factory closures, save for those making government uniforms.

Things are so bad that the Asociacion Textil Venezolana, the industry's main lobby, is "breaking apart" amid a lack of strong leadership, the consultant adds.

Retailers suffer

Meanwhile, fashion retailers are also reeling under falling demand.

"It's a very bizarre and abnormal situation," says Yenny Bastida, who owns two boutiques in the capital and struggled to reach one of her stores due to last Wednesday's "trancazo" or street blockages around the city, part of a transport strike and overall anti-Maduro protests.

"I have closed around 10 days this year. May, April and March were very bad months."

Bastida, who owns her eponymous designer boutiques in the high-end Altamira district and Tolon Fashion Mall, says sales are down 50% since January. She is seeking new customers in Miami, Panama and Mexico to survive.

Bastida says other smaller retailers are faring similarly while big fashion brands continue to exit the country, most recently Adolfo Dominguez and Argentina's Rapsodia.

VENEZUELA: Textile industry "is going to disappear"