Okay, hopefully this entry will get me through the rest of my first day in Medellin.
I did another interview with a designer named Patricia Cuello who makes high end (bridge) special occasion apparel for the wedding party, quincineras and the like. She uses some wonderful fabrics, mostly silks (some embroidered), silk chiffons, fine hand cottons and linens. As an aside, I asked her where she got them and she said she doesn’t bother sourcing. Being long established, her fabric rep knows what to bring her to show. Everything she had was very well made, lined, and under stitched. Here’s a photo of Patricia.
I asked her how she got into the business. It seems that -as with many I’ve met there- she’s second generation. Mom started the company on the kitchen table over 30 years ago. Here, the pattern seems to be, mom starts business, kid helps out, kid grows up and goes to design school and comes back, eventually taking over the enterprise. In Patricia’s case, the whole family is involved. A brother is the accountant, another brother (an attorney) handles all their legal matters. Mom is still involved these days (I met her, she’s very quiet). She runs the pattern and sample department and still makes most of their patterns. Patricia said all administrative jobs are held by family members be they siblings, aunts, uncles or cousins. She has 22 stitchers and 17 shoemakers. Oh, I forgot to mention. Patricia also makes shoes to match the outfits. She also has work sent out of house, mostly beading and embroidery to usually parents of her line sewers. Here’s a sample of some embroidery.
I asked her how the show was for her and she said it was very good, she always does well here and picks up three or four new clients each time. Her line is rather large, maybe fifty pieces? Currently she doesn’t export to the US but does sell to stores in various Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Peru in addition to Colombia. She is based out of a small town which is close to Cartagena. Cartagena is the major port city; you can get goods to Houston from Cartagena in two days. Two days!
Next I had a brief meeting with my Elena Bustamante who was my contact person with Proexport. Elena speaks excellent English -she’s based in Houston- and she gave me the rundown on services that ProExport provides. They do two basic things, promoting the needle trades and agricultural products. They focus on finding customers for their domestic companies and they help domestic companies export their products abroad. The way they get people in is by invitation and then by developing a list of contracts that are likely to interest one (as in my case). For producers, they have a program developed to assist them in becoming successful. A company has to apply and then is assigned tasks and benchmarks they must attain before they can progress in the program. All seminars and consultations are free. As companies progress, they’re provided with opportunities (meeting potential partners and customers) as they meet their commitments. Elena says there are varying levels of success depending on the buy-in. She says that companies who are enthusiastic, meet their benchmarks and keep their commitments, tend to do very well once they start exporting.
Elena says ProExport is pleased to provide whatever sourcing services they can to U.S. residents. One can submit requests for contract services and they will do the matchmaking. Contact Elena for more information. Be certain to include all of your contact information because it is likely you will be passed along to the person in charge of your area of the country. Please be very respectful and professional. I will remove this information if I find that people are sending the kinds of emails I get, ones that lack proper punctuation, salutation and information. The Colombians take great pride if not delight in assisting people but they are deserving of great respect and esteem. I remain in awe of the care and consideration shown to me from everyone I met, from a janitor at the airport, to the heads of corporations. In writing, you are an ambassador and representing the rest of us on the North American continent.
A word about sourcing which I’ll talk about more later on. Colombia is not likely to be a resource for you if you’re looking for inexpensive low value products. If you’re looking for items that are higher end with attention to quality detail (bridge or designer level), it could be a good option. You can source anything you’d need including findings, labels and tags locally.
I should also mention Colombia has two large needle trades expositions yearly. This one was wholesale apparel and related. They also have an annual sourcing show in late January or early February called ColombiaTex. I do plan on returning for that show if anyone from F-I is interested in attending with me. Actually, I will probably stay longer than the show and will be taking my family. Fernando and his sister Fanny (I haven’t introduced them yet; he’s the Optitex dealer there) and I have become friends and may be working on mutually beneficial projects.
At the close of the last day, I had a meeting with Tony Forcucci who is trying to establish a branch of MFG.com there. MFG.com is a sourcing portal. It’s an interesting model. One submits RFQs which suppliers can read and make offers on. Thus far, the service is really only useful for larger players but Tony says they’re looking at other options for smaller clients and suppliers. Other than their website, you can read more about MFG.com here (Inc), here (CNN) and here (Reuters).
At the close of day and on my way off the property, there was an outdoor exposition of student designers who had models running about. The designer below (in the middle) is named Ana Cecilia Alvarez. Her English was also perfect. She sends cordial greetings to all of you, her sister designers in the United States.