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Portugal Fashion discovers in Porto the magic formula for uniting design, production, and distribution

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Oct 20, 2023

When contemplating icons of Portuguese urbanism, the tram, with due respect to the azulejos, emerges victorious. It was at the Museo do Carro Eléctrico in Porto (the Tram Museum) that the 53rd edition of Portugal Fashion unfolded from October 10 to 14. Portugal Fashion transcends being merely a sequence of dazzling runway shows and eye-catching displays, framed against the backdrop of the Douro River and its picturesque bridges. It is an established endeavor that aims to connect the three cornerstones of the fashion industry: design, production, and distribution, with the pivotal concept of “Made in Portugal” at its core. These three words bear the weight of historical and symbolic significance, much like the trams themselves.

Carolina Sobral’s fashion show at Portugal Fashion – Portugal Fashion

“We have a robust industry and a strategically advantageous geographical location. We have made significant strides in sustainability, with many brands choosing to produce in Portugal. We offer a strong platform for uniting design and industry,” emphasized Mónica Neto, director of Portugal Fashion, in conversation with

In its 53rd edition, Porto’s Fashion Week curated a program where the spotlight shone brightly on fashion shows, yes, but was also complemented by visits to factories in the region (the outskirts of the city serve as the hub for Portuguese textile production), a showroom for presenting the designs of participating brands to both national and international buyers. The program also includes visits, such as the one organized to the creative offices of Farfetch on the morning of October 13. These visits proudly showcased Portugal’s growing contribution to the global fashion industry, while maintaining its connection to the local landscape.

“Within a half-hour drive from Porto, one can find numerous textile factories and suppliers. However, our platform aims to help designers in their global expansion. We collaborate with them to contemplate how to internationalize, which showrooms they should attend alongside us (Portugal Fashion has an agreement with the French trade fair Tranoï, a key event on the Parisian fashion calendar), and which fashion weeks they should participate in. That part of the business is constantly on our minds,” affirmed Neto, who noted that the fashion event is driven by the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE).

From emerging talent to ties with African fashion

As far as fashion shows are concerned, the Portugal Fashion program featured emerging brands endorsed by the platform for young designers, such as House of Wildflowers, Andreia Reimão, or Ahcor. It also showcased renowned brands in the Portuguese scene, including Carolina Sobral, Estelita Mendonça, or Luís Onofre, as well as international talents who have chosen Porto as the city to establish their brands. This is the case with Spaniards David Catalán and Víctor Huarte, who lead not only their own brand but also oversee the men’s design for the Portuguese brand Salsa Jeans, and South African designer Judy Sanderson.

“Until a few years ago, factories couldn’t disclose which brands they were producing for. But now, brands proudly communicate that their designs are made in Portugal. For example, Ganni is a prime example; it has strong ties to the country and serves as an industrial partner investing in sustainability,” Neto explained.

What distinguishes Portuguese industries in similar strategic positions from their Spanish counterparts? The Director of Porto’s Fashion Week is unequivocal: “The Portuguese industry had the foresight to prioritize sustainability. With the new regulations in this field, all countries must invest in sustainability, and we were pioneers in this regard.”

For Spanish designer David Catalán, who launched his brand in 2019, Portugal is his home for both personal and professional reasons. After winning the Ego contest on the Madrid runway, he chose to establish his base in Porto, citing the ease of production; “Everything is a half-hour’s drive away.” Furthermore, support from the industry for young designers, the visibility he gains by showcasing his designs at the Tranoï fair, and accessible minimum order quantities for designer brands are other compelling reasons to keep his business in Portugal.

“Portuguese production meets the certification requirements demanded by retailers like Zalando; they were the pioneers in this aspect,” he added, aligning his perspective with the direction of Portugal Fashion.

A look by Wuman, one of the African brands that attended Portugal Fashion through the Canex program. – Portugal Fashion

An overview of Porto’s runway program reveals the recurring presence of the phrase “Powered by Canex.” These words allude to the program sponsored by the Afreximbank to promote African fashion beyond the continent. On the cusp of the pandemic, this initiative, coordinated by Lulu Shabell, found its ideal partner in Portugal Fashion to gain prominence in Europe.

“We structured this partnership around three pillars. One revolves around storytelling, which we develop through runway shows to give designers visibility. The second concerns production capacity, which is coordinated with mentoring programs and factory visits (on the first day of Portugal Fashion, the African designers invited by Canex visited production centers near Porto). We recognize that one of the challenges in Africa is infrastructure and the production chain. Therefore, through this collaboration, designers can manufacture their designs in Portugal. The third pillar pertains to market access, which we obtain through an agreement with Tranoï,” highlighted Lulu Shabell.

Just days before landing in Porto, the coordinator of this program had accompanied a selection of African designers to the October edition of the Parisian trade fair.

“We have not yet finalized the report, but in March 2023, we recorded sales from 17 of our designers totaling around 800,000 euros. This realization underscores the appetite for African fashion. For us, coming to Portugal is essential, as it opens doors, provides a platform for visibility, enhances production capacity, and constructs a path to access the market,” she emphasized.

Bureaucratic hurdles

Despite its achievements (Portugal Fashion brought together 32 brands this October, including the ten that joined via Canex, 20 buyers, and around 30,000 visitors, as the event was open to the public), Porto’s fashion event grapples with bureaucratic challenges. The event receives funding from European funds, but it is currently transitioning from the 2020 program to another called 2030, as noted by Neto.

Spanish designer David Catalán’s fashion show in Portugal Fashion – Portugal Fashion

“We have been awaiting a new call for funds since October 2022. The issue is that we might have access to this capital perhaps early next year. Currently, we are encountering difficulties in advancing these funds. To address this need, we have attempted to seek support from sponsors and other income sources, collaborating with consultants and various profiles who are helping us devise a strategy that is not overly reliant on European funds,” elaborated the director of the runway event.

“These programs come with many bureaucratic regulations; they are designed for constructing roads and buildings, not for financing fashion weeks. Hence, it’s challenging to be internationally competitive when confronted with these regulations,” argued Neto.

“Portugal Fashion also supports designers in European fashion weeks like those in Paris, Milan, or London. However, this program is currently on hold, affecting Portuguese creatives such as Marques Almeida and Ernest W. Baker, two of the brands generating significant interest on the continental stage,” the director added, alluding to these two prominent Portuguese labels.

Despite the adversity, Portugal Fashion asserts itself as a gathering point for Portuguese fashion and beyond, in its broadest sense. Fashion, as an embodiment of creativity, industry, business, and a bridge connecting cultures, nations, and continents.

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