The Maagi swimwear was one of my favorite runways from the larger Colombian lines.
The Maagi swimwear was one of my favorite runways from the larger Colombian lines.
Loss of American manufacturing and textiles to India, Bangladesh and Thailand
As a resident of Danville, Virginia, the former home of Dan River Mills, which was one of the largest textile mills in the United States, I can attest to the importance of domestic textile production. As we found in 2006, with the closure of the mill, it has an immense impact on local economics, culture and politics. (Since the closure of the mill, our county in Virginia has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the USA.)
The worst thing about Danville’s woes; we aren’t alone – skilled manufacturing jobs have disappeared from the American landscape, leaving unemployment, poverty and hardship in its wake.
How does this relate to Colombia Moda?
So with this background in mind – I set off to interview some of the smaller Colombian companies.
GlobalTex with Psique
I didn’t look for GlobalTex – Walberth Montoya of GlobalTex struck up a conversation with me as I walked out of the administrative offices of Colombia Moda with my new press pass around my neck. Secondly, GlobalTex isn’t technically a Colombian product – it’s a Chinese one, with offices in Bogotá, Colombia. But these distinctions fall to the side – after talking to both Sr. Montoyan and Ronald Frajales Bedoya of Psique.
GlobalTex is an industrial equipment company that supplies irons, sewing machines and all of the other machinery used for clothing manufacture. This equipment is imported from China, but differs distinctly from other industrial sewing machines (etc) in that it has been specially designed for use by disabled people. Sewing machines for example are set into tables designed to be wider than normal, and the proper height, with easy to reach instruments for people in wheelchairs or otherwise limited mobility. The foot pedals have been replaced with just a few buttons and knobs. As industrial machines, the y have already been streamlined (so there aren’t fifty stitch options like the average home sewer.) This makes the machinery easy to use even with people with learning disabilities, or emotional/ mental limitations.
Other machinery has been adapted for use by people missing fingers or even arms or other disabilities. This is particularly important in a region like Colombia that suffers from a devastating civil war that disproportionately affects the poorer residents, as well as limited pre-natal and post-natal services for any of the poorer or more rural areas of the country.
GlobalTex has partnered with the Psique Fundacion, which is an organization dedicated to assisting people with chronic illnesses or disability to lead full and normal lives. The organization helps disabled people find resources, gain access to rehabilitative therapies and to join the workforce as productive and self-sufficient members of society. This may not sound like a big thing – but in a moderate sized nation like Colombia with a vast gulf between rich and poor, the social network for supporting people with disabilities or mental illness is not as comprehensive as some nations.
Hot topic at home
Even in the USA, where depending on your political leanings, disability services such as social security/ ‘workfare’ etc. are polarized into being either critically insufficient or unnecessary, wasteful spending, programs similar to this one are essential for the emotional well-being of this vulnerable population.
GlobalTex (and Psique), in turn can supply much of the equipment and labor force for other Colombian companies in the textile industry.
Made in Colombia
Drews is an exclusively male line of underwear. This Medellin-based company by the designer who goes simply by Drew, prides itself on the innovative and elegance of their pieces. The designer explained that it is the characteristic seaming of the garments which give each piece its support, and comfort while being an attractive option for consumers.
Calle 30 No 75 – 16
The company is coming up on its fourteenth year – and as it looks to expand its brand to overseas markets – it’s 100% Colombian made. All of the designs, the models, and all of the clothing, even the fabric itself is made in Colombia, right here in Medellin.
Tentacion is a three-year old Medellin company founded by Luis Alejandro Diaz Rua. Prior to his foray into fashion, Sr. Diaz reports that he did a wide variety of jobs to make ends meet, including at one point, selling couches and housewares.
He reports that his inspiration for the creation of the lingerie, swimwear and fitness line was his mother, and his female friends. It was based on their conversations regarding the lack of moderately priced lingerie. (Lingerie by the popular lines like Leonisa are quite pricey here). He also reported that women were seeking sexier, glamorous yet comfortable options.
Like Drew, Tentacion is entirely a Colombian operation, from the designers, models and garment construction, complete with the use of Colombian fabrics.
I wish all three of these companies the best of luck – and hope that American companies can find inspiration to revitalize our own industry at home.
Additional References and Resources
“The rise and fall of Dan River Mills” – WSLS 10 report
“Follow your labels” – a series by Kelsey Timmerman at the Christian Science Monitor that follows overseas garment construction.
DAV – Disabled American Veterans – to help people at home.
Poverty in America series – NBC written series on the growing poverty in the USA, and lack of hope for future employment.
The hopeless (homeless) generation – Today’s youth left behind, interview with homeless young adults in Las Vegas, NV
I had hoped to publish this, along with a series of articles over at Examiner.com – but the administrators tell me there is little interest in anything Colombian. I beg to differ, which is why I am publishing it here – even if it differs from our usual medical topics, so please let me know if you enjoy these glimpses into Colombian life.
Colombia Moda is the Colombian version of fashion week. While it escapes the notice of most North Americans; it shouldn’t. Colombia Moda is more than just runways, lovey models and concept collections. Colombia Moda is an event that gives context to many of the Latin American beauty ideals. This week, while attending Colombia Moda, we will be talking about emerging plastic surgery trends and their relationship to fashion, but as part of a series of articles, we will also be discussing other reasons why Americans should pay attention to a “fashion show” in Medellin, Colombia.
Beyond pretty clothes, ColombiaModa is also a meeting of the biggest minds in fashion and textiles. The show itself brings in 137.7 million dollars to Colombia, which has the fourth largest economy in Latin America (behind population giants like Brazil and Mexico). More importantly, it brings industry leaders, in design, clothing manufacturing and textiles from around the world.
Clothing construction and textiles are the heart of this conference, and what Americans should really take notice of. Other Americans have, like the founder of American Apparel, who is speaking here later this week. It’s about “reshoring” as it was called during a lecture by a professor of FIT.
Reshoring is the fashion industry’s term for moving clothing production back to the Americas; both north and south. It’s an idea that is gaining ground in the textile industry in the aftermath of several disastrous fires in Bangladeshi clothing factories that have highlighted the poor working conditions, as well as increasing bureaucratic restrictions and rising minimal wages in these countries. China alone accounts for 38% of all clothing purchased in the United States.
Delays and long production timelines due to shipping and production issues also favor continental garment fabrication. This along with a transition to more frequent fashion lines, called “short lines” with new fashions being released seven or more times a year, instead of the traditional 2 to 4, heralds increased economic opportunities for companies willing to ‘re-shore’ their production lines from India, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh or other overseas areas to the Americas. But where?
Colombia appears poised to take the market, but the United States shouldn’t sit back and just watch. It’s an opportunity to bring jobs back to the Americas – all of the Americas, and it shouldn’t be ignored.
In the next article, we will present several Colombia companies that have done just that.
As a nurse, and a writer who mainly covers medicine and surgery – I was a bit nervous when I embarked on the Colombia Moda project. However, with fashion and beauty playing such a large role in Medellin (and other cities in Colombia), I thought it would be a huge mistake not to cover this event.
So far – it’s been wonderful – and my fellow writers and photographers have been particularly so. I was worried with my lack of fashion photography background/ experience that the other prensa (press) at the event would be daunting, or intimidating.
But they haven’t been – they have been friendly, nice and amazingly helpful. Before the first runway – there they were – scooting over so my additional photographer (Matt Rines) and I would have a good view of the runway – and giving us tips on using the best camera setting to capture images in this sort of setting.
Watching the professional photographers is a little awe-inspiring.. Since we are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder (and even closer sometimes!), I can see their photos almost at the moment the shot is taken (on the digital display), and these guys are just amazing! The clarity, the vision (to see that it’s going to be a good shot) is just phenomenal. I was actually sucking in my breath – a couple times as I glanced at some of my neighbors photos while we waited for the next model to come out..
International Press but little American representation
The majority of the journalists are from Colombia (InFashion, Caracol, El Colombiano and just about every Colombian magazine/ paper you can think of) but I have seen journalists from Panama, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and even Australia. Matt and I haven’t seen any other press from the United States yet – but somehow that doesn’t surprise me. (When I was pitching this story to two different news outlets – both said that readers weren’t interested in stories about Colombia.)
But for my readers here – I’d like to get closer, and get some more stories about the people who shoot the photos.
More than Colombian News
But this isn’t a story about Colombia, really. It’s more of a story about fashion, beauty and all that goes with. Fashion is international – and this event certainly proves that. One of the big focuses this year – is trying to “reshore” the clothing construction industry as one of this year’s lecturers from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) explained.
It’s no longer cheaper, or easier to have clothing made in Bangladesh, India or China.. And that (previous) cheapness came with other complications – like long wait times, and a lot of bureaucratic headaches for designers and retailers.. Relocating these industries to the Americas is a boon for everyone. Especially now that designers and retailers are changing their selling models – to embrace 7 or more lines a year “short lines” versus the traditional 2 to 4 lines. But we’ll talk about that later – it’s almost time for the next runway to start!
If you want to see more images by some of the photographers I have met:
LookatU – Paolo Trujillo
Julian Carvajal – (I was peeking over his shoulder at times – he’s a fantastic photographer).
Style Street – fashion + photography
Estudio 8A – photographer, Jorge Ochoa from Argentina
John Drews – highlights some of the work of Medellin-based John Erick Velasquez M.
What the runway looks like from behind the lens
As for me – I am working on several articles for other outlets – so I will post more information, and links when they are done. For the time being, you can follow my Colombia Moda twitter feed: K. Eckland for up-to-date photos and news.
Stories from the Front
Anyone want to hear about the summer I spent living with a group of young journalists, in a South American country in the midst of a civil war? Oh, wait – that’s this summer – and it’s not as dramatic as all that. While everything I said in the first sentence is factually correct; it’s also horribly misleading.
I live in an exciting, wealthy cosmopolitan city where the murmurs of FARC and continuing peace talks garner little notice – unless, of course, you are living in the corporate offices of Colombia Reports. But otherwise, paramilitaries are not a big part of my daily life with the exception of the occasional amputee in the park.
(This is not to minimize the horrors faced by the populace for the last fifty years, but to avoid over-sensationalizing daily life here.)
A bigger concern is a more basic one – for any woman alone in any major city, particularly as a traveler navigating a foreign city, and foreign language: the usual safety concerns to avoid being victimized. So, I worry more about being mugged for my purse than being kidnapped and held by gangs or para-military groups. Living here is like living in Chicago, Detroit, and Washington D.C in that respect. But that’s not always what people want to hear.
Big headlines attract readers, but substance and content are what’s really important. So instead of trading in on ‘war stories’ with my readers, I try to bring portraits of daily life in Colombia and other parts of Latin America. It’s not as flashy; and exciting – but it’s worthwhile reading all the same. So with that in mind, I hope you enjoy reading about the lives of some of the people I encounter in my travels.
I am back in Mexicali (for the time being) but I was so busy during the last few weeks that I didn’t get to finish some of my posts talking about the interesting people I’ve met – and places I’ve seen.. I certainly don’t want to skip over Wilmer Villa.
He’s not famous, nor is he a surgeon – but just like so many of the people I’ve met in Colombia – he has a story to tell. It’ didn’t start as an interview, but then it rarely does – it started out as a visit to a salon on Calle 115 No 59 – 35 with a friend. But as Wilmer talked about his new salon (his first), and we celebrated the one month anniversary of his shoppe, a story started to form.
No, he hasn’t invented a cure for cancer – or even a way to arrest the relentless aging process. But he has managed to create a tranquil little spot in the middle of Bogotá for people to come and enjoy themselves for a few hours.
It hasn’t been easy – but with the help of a good friend (and long-time client), Alcira Acosta de Chaves, Wilmer was able to move out of the previous salon where he had a chair to establish his own salon. It’s a dream that has been several years in the making – which is obvious as soon as you enter the salon.
Everything is immaculate; organized and set out in a classically elegant black/white and silver scheme that evokes the 1940’s heyday of glamour. But it’s more than just a place for a haircut or a manicure, Wilmer. 27, states. It’s the entire package – the total experience, he explains, as he pours a client a cup of herbal tea.
“People can come here and get away from all the negative, and the stress [of their daily lives.] We are here for more than just hair, and make-up. we are here for laughter, smiles and good times with friends.
His cheerful attitude is infectious, and as clients come in, he and Almira take time to explain the philosophy of the shop, and the experience. “I want this place to be different” – it’s not a place for catty remarks, or cutting down of self-esteem. It’s not about malicious gossip or sarcasm, ” We don’t need any of that here,” he says. “It’s a place for people to form long-term relationships, share celebrations, milestones and happy events,” he adds. And he means it – as each person enters, he greets them by name, they share a smile or a silly story.
It’s nice – and certainly different from many of the other salons in the area. It isn’t about the up sell, or preying on women’s insecurities about their looks to sell services*. They seem to genuinely enjoy their customers and in making their clients look and feel their best.
Wilmer, the child of a Colombian mother and a Venezuelan father, was born Cucuta, near the border. He grew up in Chinacota, Colombia near the border with Venezuela. He attended cosmetology school in Perico before coming to Bogotá.
After finishing school, he come to Bogotá to apprentice with several well-known stylists such as Hernan Abandano, and received a scholarship for additional training as a colorist. He eventually received international certifications as a stylist and colorist – and has been a stylist for seven years.
He talks about how these experiences have shaped his life, and his outlook. “I like to meet people from different places, and hear more about their lives. I am learning English because I enjoy meeting and talking to Americans – and hearing their ideas and perspectives.”
Maybe Wilmer isn’t changing the world – but he is making it a more pleasant place.
*There is nothing more disheartening in my opinion than going for a manicure than being offered, “How about if we fix your hair” or “some Botox for those wrinkles”.. Or some other, more personal reminders that beauty, particularly in Latin America, is sometimes seen as more important that what’s inside.
He lives at the top of the world, I think as I climb the hills of Bogota to his studio. In a sliver of the window of his modest work space, the whole of Bogota is laid out beneath me. I wonder how this affects the Bogota native’s work; which is dark, profound and futuristic in nature.
In a city where chance meetings are common, I had the good fortune to sit next to a charming and attractive young man at a friend’s dinner party. As we made the usual small talk, he mentioned that he was a filmmaker.
Now, growing up in California, I had met my share of ‘filmmakers,’ all of who were the self-proclaimed ‘next Scorsese’ or ‘Tarentino’, and all of whom were waiting tables. So we talked about YouTube and the like, along with one of his current projects, while I remained mainly grateful for the timely rescue his appearance made from the boorish oaf on the other side of me. He was interesting and charming enough that I offered to interview for him for my modest little blog.
Imagine my surprise to find out that he’s not the next Clint Eastwood. Or even Tarentino. No, he’s the Andres Barrientos, one of Colombia’s youngest critically acclaimed directors with over fifteen films (and numerous awards) to his credit. Despite my appalling lapse, he was delightful, kind and prompt. (The last is especially notable in Colombia, where time has its own interpretation.)
It will take several days to unravel the complexities of Mr. Barrientos and his work – but I’ll be talking more about him and the three projects he is currently working on over at the Examiner.com.
Update: the full article can be seen here.