SANTIAGO – The Chilean fashion industry, although small, is growing slowly but surely, positioning Chile as one of the Latin America’s leaders. Author-designers have become an important part of the national industry, which faces several obstacles such as the fight against retail stores. Even so, there is still a long way to go to establish itself as an important industry and at the same time find its own niche as a country.
When we talk about fashion, we think of big runways, elegant and expensive dresses, stick-thin models and a very exclusive group of buyers. But Chile’s fashion industry has begun to rise, little by little, as one of the pluckiest in Latin America.
Within the Chilean fashion industry there are many “subgroups” that coexist, such as retail stores, international brands or even the so-called author-designers.
This last group, perhaps the most relevant within national fashion in recent years, has positioned itself as a small-scale industry that is becoming more and more visible and at the same time, is more present in the minds of fashion consumers in the country.
Author-design: a story of its own
According to Quinta Trends, author-design is defined as “that expression of clothing design that involves a creative process with a high component of innovation and originality, which is manifested in a story of its own; whose result is expressed in a brand that constitutes an economic productive unit that contributes as much to the productive development as to the image of a country. “
According to the same site, this could be given as the “best definition for the Chilean fashion scene”
For Valeria Rivas, designer, photographer and co-creator of the Sacramento brand, to be a designer is to be “a person who knows how to make or break a concept, according to an inspiration, a concept or something they ask”. She also adds that for her “the design is inextricably linked to the practical, it is not only aesthetic.”
At the same time, Rivas clarifies that everything depends on the country and the “limits” that can be imposed, that is to say, “in Chile you will not be able to use something very outlandish, they will not accept it”.
But then, what is the Chilean reality in terms of fashion? And more precisely, what is the reality of author-designers working in Chile today?
According to El Mostrador, in 2016 in Chile the average expenditure on clothing had increased by 80%, from 13 to 50 new annual items on average. In the same year and according to the data delivered by FashionUnited, the Chilean fashion industry in 2016 was valued at 5 billion CLP a year, thus turning Chileans into leaders in Latin America in fashion consumption.
Moreover, in the same year, the first economic diagnosis of author-designer fashion in Chile was published, created by the Matriz de Moda, which showed that the vast majority of workers in this field are women, at 73.1%. In addition, it was detailed that the age range most present is that of between 31 to 40 years.
Nearly a majority of the participants have a university level, at 47.1%. The designers are multifaceted, since they not only dedicate themselves to the creative process, but at the same time they perform the function of marketing and communication of the brand.
But it seems that the Chilean industry is still small, compared to large fashion countries such as France, Italy, the United States or the UK, countries that have established themselves as capitals of world fashion.
Chile continues to have a small or almost no development in the textile and production industry, crucial processes for the development of author-design, which is an obstacle for the continuing development and growth of the industry.
This is detailed by Rivas, who is forthright in admitting that the Chilean industry “is not so prepared”, and to this adds an example, “getting people to make you a lot of clothes is very difficult. This can be seen in the companion brands, with which you can see that the prints are repeated, because in the end they all go to the same place to buy. “
Rivas adds “in Chile there is not so much market to grow your brand, because the level of production does not accommodate what is needed.”
On another path is Luis Miranda, editor-in-chief of ModaCL, who declares himself an “optimist” in terms of talking about the Chilean fashion industry and says that he “prefer[s] to talk about whether we have an industry”.
Even so, Miranda says that “there are people who say that we don’t have industry, that our industry lacks many things that should be professionalized and because there is no industry of raw materials and clothing,” but still emphasizes and repeats, that he is “optimistic, and prefer to say describe the Chilean fashion industry as incipient one”.
Not the only obstacle
However, living with a small Chilean fashion industry is not the only obstacle that designers, creatives and people dedicated to this world have to overcome in order to be able to make a living from this work, since the confrontation of author fashion with retail is one of the main difficulties at the time of establishing a brand.
Most Chileans wear clothes from retail or so-called “Fast Fashion”, where stores like H&M or Forever 21 stand as the great leaders or icons of this fast fashion. According to figures from El Mostrador, clothing is the third-largest sector of the retail industry, surpassed only by hypermarkets and packaged food.
To this, Miranda points out that the great difference between retail and author-designers has to do with the price, “author-design is still more expensive than retail” and adds that “price is ends up filtering the profile of consumers.”
For her part, Rivas tells us that her vision to have a brand and having to go up against more traditional retail options “is difficult, because we have to go up against the monster of retail, because retail offers a different quality. Retail can offer things that brands do not offer, because as we do not have a large industry, we can compete in price and quality. “
But at the same, time Rivas said that one of the ways to gain ground against retail is “teaching people who prefer local products, design details, a bit of exclusivity.”
A Chilean stamp
When talking about author’s design, a question arises: How can you have a design identity if there is no established Chilean fashion industry?
Rivas responds to this question by explaining that “we have to give people something different, something that identifies you, something that has its own stamp”. She explains “in our case [Sacramento] we started with the work of artisans, with something very particular and with 100% national work, a trademark seal, a unique product.”
For Miranda, “Chilean designers do have their own imprint, where you can differentiate the particular works of a Chilean designer”. But at the same time he clarifies that what Chile lacks is “to have a design image as a country, as other countries like Colombia have, where each designer has his own stamp but at the same time they share a general seal as a country industry and that Chile, at present, lacks this”.
Nelson Quiroz is Chile Today´s photographer. He also writes about youth culture and fashion, and often contributes with photo series during marches and protests.