How a New Approach Has Turned Brazil’s Once-Dormant Clothing Industry into a US$ 90-Bi Colossus

History of Fashion book For some time now, we in Brazil have left the basic. And gained greater colors, textures, models fabrics, styles and business. Great business. With revenues of US$ 52 billion in 2010, the textile and garment sectors in the country grew to 30,000 companies, exporting to over 140 countries and generating 1.7 million direct jobs. What many do not notice, however, is that these figures are due to a powerful lever called fashion.

It is fashion that makes people buy more clothes, making the São Paulo Fashion Week, the most important in the parades in the country, in rounds that take Brazilian garments abroad. To have an idea of the dimension of this market, a study by IBOPE Intelligence, an organization under the IBOPE group umbrella, showed that, in 2011, fashion retail should have a turnover of 136 billion Brazilian reais (US$ 87 billion) all over the country.

The figures disclosed by the institute include sales of garments, shoes and accessories. According to the study, only women’s, men’s and children’s clothes should generate deals of approximately 95 billion reais (US$ 60.6 billion) this year, which means consumption of 492 reais (US$ 314) per person.

The shoe sector, in turn, should have a turnover of 40.6 billion reais (US$ 25.9 billion) in 2011, with per capita consumption of 210 reais (US$ 134). When adding both categories, individual expenses total 702 reais (US$ 448).

“Brazilians like fashion,” said the superintending director of the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry Association (Abit), Fernando Pimentel. “The national textile industry would be much smaller if clothes only served as protection against nature,” he explained.

According to Pimentel, it is fashion that grants us more research, more technology for production, more fabric and more material. That is, it is mainly responsible for sector renovation and growth. That is not to mention the impact on retail and distribution. “All you need is the great shops to invite famous stylists to sign their collections,” he said. “Consumers are more and more aware.”

Today, Brazil has the fifth largest textile industry in the world, after China, India, Pakistan and the United States. To help leverage business even further, the Abit has been granting support to 40 events a year abroad and to another 40 in Brazil.

The Brazil Fashion Salon is one of the events promoted with the association’s support. Its last edition was in the city of São Paulo, between the 19th and 21st of June.

Bringing together 320 fabric, accessory, female and male garment, lingerie and beach fashion producers, the fair received retailers from Brazil and abroad, with sales of around 280 million reais (US$ 179 million). Among the foreigners present at the invitation of the Abit were businessmen from Argentina, the United States, Paraguay and Peru.

Apart from these nations, also prominent in the talks at the Salon were the Arab nations, recalled as important buyers of Brazilian fashion. “The Arabs appreciate quality and sustainable production,” explained Rafael Cervone Netto, the executive director of the association’s TexBrasil program, which was present at the event. “Do not worry so much about the price, they are excellent buyers,” he said.

According to figures disclosed by the Business and Market Department at the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, Brazilian exports of textile products to the Arab countries totaled US$ 26.4 million from January to May this year. Growth of 16.78% over the same period in 2010. The main destinations were Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Lebanon and Tunisia.

To the Future

To continue adding people worldwide, national fashion has among its main triumphs the talent of sector professionals. The Fashion Graduate and Post-Graduate Professor at Santa Marcelina College (FASM), in São Paulo, Raquel Valente Fulchiron explained that, when the course was established, the first in its area in the country, back in 1987, there was little concern with professionalization of garment producers. “It was more turned to art,” she recalled. “Today, the focus is on creation, but also on the market,” she explained.

In all, FASM has already trained over one thousand students in the area. Among the most famous names are stylists Alexandre Herchcovitch and Adriana Barra. “Around 80% of our students leave college employed,” said Raquel.

The percentage of entrepreneurs, that is, of youths who decide to start their own business, is around 30% of those registered at the institution. “The remaining ones work in several other areas, including jewelry, shoes, photography and all else related to fashion,” she explained.

“They are new talents that help make fashion more professional, taking information to the market,” she said, pleased with the future of the world of threads, needles and parades in Brazil.

From Socks to Fine Garments

Players in the textile industry, companies in the sector know that fashion is a primordial factor to guarantee that their products quickly leave the shelves of shops. Aware of that, they do not measure efforts to research tendencies, seek new fabrics and models and offer novelties to consumers at a faster and faster rhythm.

It does not matter if the item in question is a pair of socks: they will be fashionable socks, in the colors of the season, why not?

“Apart from international trips for research, by the Style Department, we must learn that the main colors to be used in the season, what will be the tendency in fashion,” explained Lupo stylist Patrícia Janoni. “We study whether in winter people will be wearing miniskirts or longer models, for example. And we adapt Lupo products to what consumers want at that moment,” she says. The company, known mainly for its production of socks, has 15 style professionals in its team.

Each year, the producer releases two collections of stockings, four collections of socks and two of other products, like garments. Apart from Brasil, the company sells its articles to another 37 countries. “Foreign sales answer to 4% of our revenues,” explained the exports supervisor at Lupo, Marcos Crepaldi.

Also a producer of fashionable socks, among other items, like clothes, Scala is another company that grew in Brazil and abroad due to investment in fashion. “We visit international fairs, we eye tendencies and produce always according to the color portfolio that is in use at the moment,” said the national sales manager at Scala, Mauro Gonçalo.

Next summer, for example, the brand is betting on more citric tones for articles like socks and jerseys. “We will have many things in salmon, green, lilac and so on,” said Gonçalo.

With 20% of revenues connected to exports, Scala sells, in the Arab world, to markets like Kuwait. “The Middle East is fundamental for our business,” explained Gonçalo. “They are consumer countries that make technological products and innovation,” he said.

Also an exporter of Brazilian fashion to the world, stylist Márcia Ganem, from Bahia, owns her eponymous brand, and says that apart from care with style, Brazilian garment producers are renowned for the creativity of their items. “We managed to present differentiated articles,” she said. “In our case, we work with exclusive material, developed by us,” she said.

Márcia refers to lace made from recycled polyamide fibre. The result of this development is production of sophisticated articles, but with a chic rustic touch in name of the sustainability that clients here and abroad love. “Our research is always connected to the tradition of arts, fashion and Brazilian culture,” said Márcia.

The brand’s last collection, which has in exports 60% of revenues, was called “Tramando Moda”. In the Arab world, the embroidered dresses that leave the company’s factory in Salvador, Bahia, are sold to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon, among others. This shows that Brazilian fashion, carefully developed from arms to feet, already has a prominent place in the most varied of markets.

The Arab Touch

The Brazilian textile industry would not be the same without the Arabs who began settling in Brazil in the late 19th century. Their influence ranges from the traveling salesmen’s role as conveyors of innovations to the turbans that the baianas, women who are the ultimate symbol of the state, wear as they cook acarajé (fried balls made black-eyed pea and shrimp) on the streets of the state capital Salvador.

Such were the conclusions drawn by journalist Luís André Prado and professor and researcher João Braga, authors of the book História da Moda no Brasil – Das Influências às Autorreferências (History of Fashion in Brazil – From Influences to Self-References). The work, published by Editora Pyxis, was released last June.

In their work, Prado and Braga highlight the role of merchants based on 25 de Março street, which thrived as Arab immigrants arrived in São Paulo, as fosterers of the clothing trade.

According to the duo, in 1901 the area comprised over 500 shops owned by foreigners who had come mainly from Lebanon and Syria. Among them were the first wholesalers of fabric, as well as the haberdashers who used to supply the traveling salesmen and until this day are the joy of those who work amidst threads and needles.

“The Arab heritage of popularizing fashion items, new fabrics and materials was very important to the growth of the textile industry in Brazil,” says Braga. According to information culled from História da Moda no Brasil (History of Fashion in Brazil), a book dating from 1920, a survey made in São Paulo ascertained that out of 91 Syrian and Lebanese industrial facilities in the city, 65 were for clothing and 12 were textile mills.

From the traveling salesmen to the trays filled with delicacies that taste like Bahia, Prado explains that the presence of Arabs in Brazilian garments even includes afro tradition. “The blacks who came to the country were mostly from the Arab Africa,” he says. “That is where the Baiana’s turban comes from,” he says.

As a current highlight, the journalist mentions, among other names, the designer Fause Haten as a talent of Arab origin.

Immigrant entrepreneurs aside, Prado and Braga’s book is replenished with backstage stories of fashion in Brazil, featuring talents who were also great characters.

One example is the designer Dener Pamplona, from the state of Pará, who made his name in São Paulo, where he became a more-than-declared rival to another household name in design: Clodovil Hernandes. “Dener was undoubtedly one of the first to stand out in Brazil,” says Braga. “One of the most emblematic, by the way,” he claims.

Among Dener’s famous stories, Prado’s favorite was the time when the designer gave his opinion on a dress worn by Maria Thereza Goulart, wife of the then-president João Goulart.

“When Maria Thereza had to go into exile in Uruguay because her husband, the then-president João Goulart, had been overthrown by the military coup of March 31st, 1964, Dener said: ‘But she (Maria Thereza) cannot go into exile wearing a turquoise-blue tailleur! My God, that garment is not appropriate for the occasion!’ Isn’t that great?,” says the journalist, who is the keeper of these and many other passages about the growth and consolidation of fashion in Brazil.



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