Peru’s best and brightest textile andapparel manufacturers were on hand at the recent PeruModa, promoting the country’shigh-quality products and niche market savvy.

The second annual PeruModa, a matchmakingforum designed for international importers and Peruvian apparel and textile manufacturers,was a clear demonstration that Peruvian manufacturers are providing fabrics and garmentsof high quality and working hard to supply niche markets.

The event, which was held this pastFebruary at the Hotel Los Delfines in Lima, Peru, and sponsored by Prompex, the Peruviannon-traditional export promotion organization, attracted approximately 100 Peruviantextile and apparel firms exhibiting everything from hand-loomed children’s sweatersto high-end alpaca evening wraps. Approximately 80 international importers participated inthe event, representing countries including the United States, Germany, Argentina,Belgium, Italy, England, Mexico, France and Venezuela.

Attending importers were supportive ofPeru’s efforts to establish a strong apparel and textile base. One champion of theindustry is Colin Pratt, managing director of Out of Peru (OOP), a production sourcingcompany for major groups in the United Kingdom, including John Lewis, Kickers, Ben Shermanand Austin Reed. He began sourcing in Peru nine years ago, and while he initially hadreservations about Peru’s ability to compete with the quality and turnaround times ofmanufacturers in Europe and the Far East, he was pleased to find that the country measuredup.

“When I came here, I expected a‘mañana’ [attitude], ” Pratt said. “In fact, it wasn’t that wayat all. And [Peruvian manufacturers] believe in investment, and a lot of the largercompanies technically are as good as those in the Far East. There are problems you runinto – as you do everywhere – but on the whole the quality of the garments here issuperior.”

Sanford Sessler, of Irvine, CA-based St.John Knits, also was impressed with the quality of Peru’s products. The company issourcing fabrics abroad for its renowned women’s wear line, which is producedexclusively in the United States. “I’m looking for what Peru does best -Peruvian cottons,” he said.

Still, Sessler explained, it has been achallenge for St. John Knits to find manufacturers that can offer the blend of PeruvianPima cotton with Lycra® spandex, a staple in most of the company’s garments.Currently, he is working with mills in Peru to develop knit samples, and he also hasworked in partnership with Lima-based Creditex for woven fabrics.

According to Kenneth Wilson, export managerfor Creditex, his company is focusing on growing its woven goods business, and has beenmanufacturing fabrics for the likes of Geoffrey Beene, Calvin Klein, Liz Claiborne,Woolrich and Esprit. Other apparel customers include The Gap, Old Navy, Tahari and YSL,and on the home fashions end of the business, the firm is producing for Shumaker andWaverly.

“We have always considered the UnitedStates as a natural market for us, because of its proximity,” explained Wilson.”We are also exporting fabric and doing manufacturing for some companies in Europe.But our principle market is definitely the United States.”

The importance of the United States toPeru’s apparel and textile industries is not underestimated by David Lemor, presidentof the Apparel Industry Committee for the Sociedad Nacional de Industrias (SNI). Accordingto Lemor: “We are working diligently with Prompex to consider all of our exportoptions, with an emphasis on maintaining a presence in the United States and Europe. Thisyear we believe there will be a marked increase in exports of both manufactured goods andfabric.” Lemor adds that 95 percent of the fabrics made in Peru are knits, but thatthe textile sector is looking to increase the production of woven goods in the nearfuture.

Manufacturers in Peru also are focusing onexports. For example, Elmer Agüero, international sales manager for Creaciones TextilMercurio S.A., told Bobbin that he is looking to expand his company’s businessoutside of South America. “We’re currently manufacturing for the local marketand exporting to Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador. But for us the United States is a veryimportant market, and we feel we have a good chance to export [there] since we manufacture100 percent cotton garments and our own fabrics.”

Peruvian companies serving the UnitedStates also have gained recognition by targeting many niche markets. Consider, forexample, Parwa S.A. and El Ayni. According to Elsa Ortiz, director of Parwa (which means”cornflower” in the native Quechuan Indian language), the company has been inbusiness for some 20 years and owes its success to demand for high-end knitted decorativesweaters.

An excellent example of how some companiesare integrating Peruvian artisans’ hand-loomed goods with items knitted by machine,Parwa has been creating sweaters for catalog retailers such as Hannah Anderson and GarnetHill and also has worked with Pier 1. The company produces approximately 3,000 to 5,000garments every 45 to 60 days and is currently exporting to the United States, England andFrance.

“We work with a broad base of localartisans and suppliers so that we can create garments with designs and colors [suppliedby] our customers. We give them exactly what they want,” said Ortiz.

José Zubieta Alvarado, vice president ofthe Artisan Committee of the Exporters Association (ADEX), also incorporates artisanknitting into the production of sweaters for his company, El Ayni. At the show, Zubietawas exhibiting sweaters for men and women and noted that the event was “an excellentformat” to make contacts with buyers from all over the world.

Zubieta added that his biggest challenge asa small company in Peru is being able to manufacture specialized garments in largequantities. “We have to find the right niche to match the type of product wemanufacture in the volume we manufacture.”

However, there definitely is a market forhigh-volume production in Peru, pointed out David Greene, vice president of production forHialeah, FL-based S.T.S. (Sourcing to Satify). “I’m looking to buy out an entireplant’s production for six months,” he said.

On the down side, Peru’s reluctance toimport cotton has posed a challenge for those seeking to place large orders, Greene added.”It’s limiting in that respect. The quality standards are very high here, whichis nice to see, but even in the moderate to better market, most of the production is stillin small [quantities].”

Amy Gabriel is editor in chief of LaBobina, the leading Spanish-language publication for the sewn products industry.

Peru at a Glance

  • The third largest country in South America (1.29 million Km²)
  • Population: 24.5 million
  • Number of people directly employed in the apparel and textile industry: 150,000 (those indirectly employed in the industry number 530,000)
  • 1997 GDP: $65 billion (an increase of 7.4 percent over the previous year)
  • Exports: $6.74 billion
  • 1997 inflation: 6.5 percent
  • Trade deficit: $1.5 billion
  • Ranked 13th among 46 major countries in terms of economic growth (United States is 16th, China is 1st)
  • Ranked on par in 1997 with Mexico and Argentina for creditworthiness, and ranked above Brazil
  • 1997 textile and apparel exports: $571 million
  • Ten-year annual growth rate for the textile and apparel industry: 25 percent
  • Textiles and apparel represented 27.1 percent of Peru’s non-traditional exports in 1998 (68 percent is clothing and 32 percent is yarns/fabric)
  • 1998 knitwear exports: $314.8 million
  • 1998 woven exports: $25.3 million
  • The most important export markets for the Peruvian textile sector in 1998: NAFTA region ($268.2 million); the European Union ($116.9 million); neighboring countries, not including Mercosur ($101.9 million); and Asia ($24.5 million)