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Overcoming all obstacles at Colombiatex

Adrian Wilson

Technical fabrics and performance apparel have a key role to play in finding new international niche markets for Colombia’s textile industry. This was immediately apparent at the 2013 Colombiatex trade fair which celebrated its 25th anniversary from January 22-24 in Medellin – a city that has changed perhaps more than any other and beyond all recognition over the last quarter of a century.

28th January 2013

Adrian Wilson
 |  Medellin

Sports/​Outdoor, Clothing/​Footwear

 

Technical fabrics and performance apparel have a key role to play in finding new international niche markets for Colombia’s textile industry.

This was immediately apparent at the 2013 Colombiatex trade fair which celebrated its 25th anniversary from January 22-24 in Medellin – a city that has changed perhaps more than any other and beyond all recognition over the last quarter of a century.

Colombia’s problems have been well documented – the cocaine industry and its attendant violence with which Medellin is most closely associated and guerilla warfare in the Amazonian south of the country being just two of them.

One of the top three most innovative cities in the world

So rather surprisingly – although not if you’re lucky enough to visit – Medellin has just been voted one of the top three most innovative cities in the world, along with New York and Tel Aviv, primarily as a result of the advanced infrastructure it has put in place and a successful crackdown on general crime.

Meanwhile, Colombia’s textile industry has suffered greatly as a result of cheap imports to the country – a problem only intensified by drug money laundering operations. Then there has been a spat with Venezuela over unpaid bills for goods and services. Many of the leading Colombian textile players such as Coltejer and Fabricato have been driven to the brink of bankruptcy as a consequence.

Now, however, the textile industry is fighting back, with a wide-reaching programme of new international trade agreements being put in place.

Emphasis on performance materials

The emphasis at Colombiatex 2013 was on new performance materials, specifically in activewear and also in denim. The move of local manufacturers into activewear is a logical progression, given the established specialisation of many Colombian knitwear companies in lingerie and swimwear, and in particular, specific know-how in the advanced handling of polyamide and elastane fabric constructions. These are now being supplemented with fibres such as Lenzing’s Tencel and Rhodia Brazil’s cellulite-eliminating Emana. In denim, there is a focus on vibrant new colours in keeping with the region’s designs, as well as the personalisation offered to buyers by leading suppliers such as CI Jeans.

Colombia’s latest free trade agreement (FTA) is with the European Union, and a guest of honour at Colombiatex 2013 was EU Ambassador María Van Gool, who is in no doubt that the company’s garments can find many new markets in Europe.

“There’s an openness and an eagerness here in Colombia that I think is evident in the opening-up of trade policies,” she said, “and there’s also a real thirst for the transfer of ideas and technology.”

At present, the EU accounts for just 2-3% of Colombia’s textile exports, but a common culture and language suggest Spain may be an initial point of entry under the favourable new trading terms.

Meanwhile, so important is the textile industry seen in relation to the country’s future from the government’s perspective, that it was personally opened by President Juan Manuel Santos, who actively encouraged difficult questions from textile entrepreneurs on how to take the industry forward.

At the same time he took the opportunity to introduce temporary new tariffs aimed at curbing cheap imports – which may or may not be related to money laundering – and encouraged textile and garment manufacturers to be aggressive in pursuing new opportunities in Europe as a result of the new FTA.

He even encouraged his followers on Twitter to vote for Medellin in the new online poll that is running to establish just which of the three nominated cities is most deserving to be called ‘innovative’ in 2013.

Medellin certainly gets my vote.

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