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The Portugal Fashion Industry Gains Momentum, Thanks to Its Design Talent and Textile Manufacturing

It’s a scene that’s all too familiar during certain weeks of the year: fashionable crowds grabbing their seats in venues that range from minimalist to the extremely opulent, models walking down runways in the newest designs.

From March 25 through 28, designs that spanned from edgy to elegant were showed in Europe, but it wasn’t in one of Europe’s fashion capitals. The occasion was Portugal Fashion, the country’s own version of fashion week.

A fashion scene is brewing there in both its capital, Lisbon, and in Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city. That Portugal Fashion, the country’s own fashion week, marked 20 years, so clearly, a fashion scene has been brewing for years. Portugal has an abundance of textile and leather factories and producers that are among the leaders in the countries exports, thanks to its high quality products and lower costs.

Luis Buchinho's fall/winter 2015 25th anniversary collection (Courtesy of Portugal Fashion)

Luis Buchinho’s fall/winter 2015 25th anniversary collection (Courtesy of Portugal Fashion)

As one of the largest textile exporters in Europe, several fashion labels you know look to Portugal to sources fabrics. One of the oldest and most respected textile manufacturers in Portugal is Riopele, which is about a 36-minute drive from Porto in Pousada de Saramagos. Companies like Zara, MaxMara, Calvin Klein, Versace, Giorgio Armani and Hugo Boss are just a few of Riopele’s international clients thanks to its innovative techniques, and high-quality synthetic fibers. According to Joao Costa, the president of the Portuguese Textile Association, there are some 6,353 textile companies that provide 123,463 jobs in the country.The industry exports 4.283 million euros, making up 9 percent of the Portuguese exports.

Even the London-based publication Business of Fashion has its eye on Portugal. A recent article discussed how “Made in Portugal” is on the rise, citing the growth of its leather shoe and accessory exports: “In fact, from 2006 to 2013, the local leather shoe industry has increased exports by 213 percent, from 36,510,000 pairs to 114,387,000 pairs, according to Portuguese leather and footwear association Associação Portuguesa dos Industriais de Calçado, Componentes, Artigos de Pele e seus Sucedâneos.” The article also said that Portugal makes up for “3.8 percent of the global leather goods trade (about a quarter of Italy’s 16.5 percent) according to the International Trade Centre.”

With such an abundance of materials, Portugal could be the perfect place for a designer to set up shop, but there are still challenges. “It’s quite difficult because we don’t have quantities, but the good thing is if they work, if they have their own label, and if they work for other labels, they can have a super approach with the manufacturers, so it can give them more opportunities to develop things there and also in Copenhagen and Berlin,” said Miguel Flor, the creative director of Bloom, an initiative that supports emerging designers in Portugal by giving them runway shows and placing their designs in a Porto-based concept shop. Rising menswear designer Mafalda Foncesca agrees with the challenges that a young designer faces due to needing lower quantities of materials. “It’s not really nice to be a young designer in Portugal because we have not financial benefits, but we are trying,” she said. “We are fighting to go out of Portugal, but it’s also important to be present in Portugal.”

That isn’t to say that success in Portugal is impossible; Alves/Gonçalves, the duo consisting of Manuel Alves and Manuel Gonçalves has been in the fashion business nearly three decades, counting the country’s ladies who lunch as their main client base. Alves also designs uniforms for the Portuguese airline TAP, and says he sources all the fabrics from Portugal. The key he says, is to find your niche. “It’s good to be a fashion designer,” said Alves. “You are not so stressed, you not are so stressed. You live more on less, we have time to lunch, we have time to spend time with our friends, we have houses to spend with our holidays so, it’s good to live in Portugal.” Adds designer Luis Buchinho, who recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of his eponymous label, “We are becoming a very strong industry with names that are getting to be known bit by bit.”

Meanwhile, labels like Marques’Almeida and fashion businesses like Farfetch — the ecommerce site that connects independent boutiques to a mass consumer market  that was founded by Portuguese entrepreneur José Neves — have demonstrated that it is indeed possible for Portuguese fashion talent to go global. As word spreads of the amount of both materials and design talent, Portugal just may gain an edge on Paris or Milan.

In: Forbes Life | Compliments of , a member of the EACC New York