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Short circuit fashion: Portugal Fashion is on the right track

By Florence Julienne


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Portugal Fashion. From left to right: Pé de Chumbo, Ernest W. Baker, Awa Meite. Photos: F Julienne

From 14 to 18 March 2023, Portugal Fashion in Porto organised its 52nd fashion week. Its mission? To bring together a successful local industry and local and international designers onto one podium, in a convergent short circuit dynamic.

"The challenge of Portugal Fashion is to promote our national brands, especially the young ones, and to connect them with industrialists," said Monica Neto, director of Portugal Fashion, the fashion branch of the Anje association (National Association of Young Entrepreneurs) in collaboration with the ATP (Portuguese Textile Association).

The event was held in rua Latino Coehlo, in Porto, in an old garage that is soon to be refurbished. Almost a symbol, as it is difficult, in the current context (rising prices, war, etc.), to organise an alternative event to the dominant fashion weeks in Paris, Milan, New York or London. "Portugal Fashion is a B2B event aimed at the press, buyers, brand clients and also fashion schools. But this year, due to a lack of budget, we were not able to gather as many international buyers as we would have liked," admitted the director.

If the challenge of wholesale marketing remains to be met, the demonstration that the Portuguese industry goes hand in hand with the emergence of creative brands, manufactured in short circuits, is a fact and not an anecdote. The proof is in the presentation of the Ernest W. Baker brand, which successfully plays the made in Portugal card.

Ernest W. Baker twists the codes of tailoring in the factories of the Porto

Courtesy of Portugal Fashion. Ernest W. Baker

He, Reid Baker, is American. She, Ines Amorim, is Portuguese. Initially based in Milan, this creative duo later worked in Paris, London and Antwerp. They were among the finalists for the LVMH Prize in 2018. For the ‘Who's Who’, Ernest W. Baker's fame comes from the fact that Pharell Williams, the new artistic director of the Louis Vuitton label, is a loyal customer. He wore an Ernest W. Baker outfit to the 2023 Grammys Awards. This young Portuguese brand sells to high-end buyers around the world - Dover Street Market, Ssense, Corso Como, United Arrows - through a private showroom in the Marais during Paris Fashion Week.

But it was finally in Portugal, in Porto, that the young designers decided to settle. "The aim of our return to Porto was to better control the manufacturing process, but also our selling prices," Reid Baker explained during his presentation. Our retail prices range from 300 euros for a pair of trousers or a shirt to 1,200 euros for a coat. We are one of the first to play in the luxury category with 100 percent Portuguese-made products. This will change the perception of the country.”

Pé of Chumbo: 3D industrial manufacturing for a handmade knitwear

Courtesy of Portugal Fashion

Another example of the Portuguese industry's adaptability to international fashion is Pé de Chumbo. This brand, spotted at the Tranoi March 2023 show, has its own production unit in Guimarães, 45 minutes north-east of Porto. A rare occurrence in the fashion industry, except for luxury groups, the factory does not subcontract and therefore produces exclusively for its own brand.

In 2008, manager Alexandra Oliveira developed a unique process that allows her to produce seamless knitwear models. They look handmade, but in reality their industrial character allows them to assume a wholesale distribution. We buy the yarns and make our own material," she explained after her show. We also used recycled fibres from existing garments to design some of the jackets in the collection. Pé de Chumbo sells in France (Victoire boutiques), Italy - its biggest market -, Turkey (14 boutiques), Germany, etc., at prices of around 600/700 euros for a dress.

Unlike Moda Lisboa, which is organised in the Portuguese capital, Portugal fashion benefits from a connection with local industry that allows it to spread. "We have a fantastic industrial park, a good geographical location, a beautiful city, etc. These assets allow us to promote our products. These assets allow us to promote national brands but also to attract international labels," said Monica Neto. We are open to international participants, as long as they want to produce their collection in Portugal.

Ten African designers discover the Portuguese industry

Courtesy of Portugal Fashion. Awa Meite

This exchange with international designers has been exercised, since 2021, through a partnership with Canex (Creative Africa Nexus), a programme to promote African fashion financed by the import-export bank (Afreximbank). "What is particularly interesting about Porto is its industrial park. The region has been able to recover from the steamroller that was made in China. In 50 years, their industry has not only progressed, but it has also met the standards of sustainable fashion," explained Khanyl Mashimbye, a consultant with the Intra African Trade Initiative.

"We want to penetrate the European market. To do this, we need to understand how the fashion system works and Portugal Fashion allows us to do this," she continued. The result: ten designers represented Africa in a packed programme. Among them, Awa Meite.

Awa Meite is a Malian designer committed to sustainable fashion. For her show, called Taama in Bamanankan, Awa denounced a Malian market invaded by the leftovers of the West, whether it be donations, end of series or unsold items. "We can't stop it because they allow thousands of families to live. What answer can Africa find to this?” she asked.

Her answer is to recycle the jeans that are invading this market: "We have dismantled them and reconstructed them. Some of the pieces were left as they were. We just dyed them naturally using the indigo or bogolan technique [a fabric decorated with plants and clay or mud]. Very few chemical dyes are used.”

The Portuguese model to enter a more virtuous production logic

Courtesy of Portugal Fashion. From left to right: Marques Ameida, Bloke, Davii

With handmade production and premium prices (clutches 100 euros, clothing 500 euros, large coats between 600 and 700 euros), Awa Meite sells, for the moment, mainly in African multi-brands and addresses Europe via the online market. "The European shops want to do deposit and sale. With the crisis, they find it difficult to buy cash. It's not interesting because we don't produce much, so when the order is placed, we can just produce it and ship it.”

The issue, if there is one, is therefore the connection between the Portuguese industry and African creation, in order to be able to enter, in the medium term and before Africa develops its own ecosystem, into a ready-to-wear logic.

Our aim is to build an image beyond our borders," concluded the director of Portugal Fashion. “That's why, in addition to this fashion week, for the past four years we have been organising presentations in Sao Paulo, Istanbul, Paris, London, etc. We want to make the city of Porto a fashion hot spot in Europe.” As a journalist, the last time I heard this sentence was from the mouth of the mayor of Seoul.

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.FR. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.

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