When the co-founders of the Latin American Fashion Summit took to the stage to open the second iteration of the 4-day conference better known as LAFS, they peered into a crowd of over 600 people that were buzzing with excitement. Within the audience, every country in Latin America was represented. “We are uniting Latin America so the rest of the world can find out what Latin America is about,” said Samantha Tams enthusiastically alongside her co-founder, Estefania Lacayo. The audience at the Teatro Adolfo Mejia in Cartagena, Colombia, erupted with cheers and applause.
Over the next few days, these two women would bring together the most boldfaced names in Latin American fashion and major players in the global fashion industry to present information, support and inspiration to the fashion businesses in the region. The goal? To work towards accomplishing the very thing the co-founders have set out to do—to nurture and grow a cohesive Latin American fashion market to take its place on the world stage.
The evolution to a more global fashion industry has slowly been happening as new markets have emerged outside of the New York-London-Milan-Paris fashion circuit over the last ten years. Countries and regions like China, Eastern Europe and Africa have banded together their industries, presenting the most outstanding of what their fashion has to offer to the world.
Unlike other markets, though, LAFS’s approach to accomplishing its goal at this stage is not to go about it through the creation of a fashion week (there is a Mercedes Benz fashion week that takes place in Costa Rica). Tams and Lacayo are operating with the strategy to unite fashion across Latin America by helping brands build their businesses.
Instead of runways, models and fashion shows there were talks on sustainability, cultural appropriation and in-depth analyses of the global retail landscape. There was a full day dedicated to workshops to help brands shape better business models through functions like PR, retail partnerships, and international sales. They held intimate events designed specifically with networking in mind.
The entire summit culminated with the announcement of the winner of the Pitch To LAFS designer competition, which awarded a cash sum and mentoring to an up-and-coming Latin American designer. This year the winner was Maygel Coronel, a Colombian swimwear brand that straddles ready-to-wear, and through the use of a highly-technical fabric, creates pieces that are one size fits all. Their suits accommodate any body shape and size while promising to retain its form throughout the life of the garment.
For being only in its second year, the power behind LAFS belied its newness. It pulled the support of industry titans such as former Creative Director of Calvin Klein, Francisco Costa, and the designer, Carolina Herrera, while major global brands such as Tiffany & Co., Farfetch, and Michael Kors were sponsors. The event itself was world-class.
Herrera, an industry legend who founded one of the most recognizable fashion brands in the world, lent her gravitas to the event through a palpable and strong presence. She was seen sitting front row at Costa’s talk and took to the stage herself in conversation with the investor best known for supporting Net-a-Porter at its start, Carmen Busquets. She attended dinners hosted by local designers, even if only to make an appearance in support. She personally took time to get to know and support each of the entrants, and even posed for pictures with them according to one finalist.
“I am a great believer of the talent of Latin American designers and I wanted to meet them. I must say that I was very impressed by their creativity,” says Herrera of her role on the jury.
This is the sort of passion that fuels LAFS. Attendees (the number of which has doubled in size since last year’s summit) were highly-engaged, evidenced by the fact that events were often filled to capacity. Their enthusiasm coupled with complete immersion from people like Herrera and Costas cemented the communal desire from every player in the game—from the emerging to the seasoned—to commit to propelling this market forward.
“Latin American fashion has to be more recognized. Designers need to continue working hard and being true to their styles in order to globally attract more attention,” says Herrera. “The goal should be to have a very solid company, to be really disciplined and innovative while being aware of people’s needs. Fashion has to look, well, everywhere, and it should be international.”
There was often talk of the larger impact of fashion in the region. Costa, who took to the stage in conversation with the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Latin America, Karla Martinez de Salas, spoke to the issue of preserving the Amazon, a cause to which he is dedicated through his natural skincare brand, Costa Brazil.
“Latin American fashion has to be more recognized. Designers need to continue working hard and being true to their styles in order to globally attract more attention. The goal should be to have a very solid company, to be really disciplined and innovative while being aware of people’s needs. Fashion has to look, well, everywhere, and it should be international.
“It’s imperative to not only capture that audience and explore Latin values and cultures, but create awareness and support the much disturbed natural environment [the Amazon]. LAFS is the conduit, creating a new paradigm for Latin American fashion,” he says, connecting the dots between fashion and social responsibility in the region.
While there are many designers from the region that compete globally—just look at brands like Johanna Ortiz, Esteban Cortázar, and Silvia Tcherassi whose names resonate around the world—the summit revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the greater Latin American fashion industry, especially the parts that require fine tuning.
“Latin American designers must adopt speed-to-market initiatives such as e-commerce. Most brands do not have an operating e-commerce channel thus making its distribution limited,” says Tams when asked about regional challenges. According to the LAFS co-founder, without proper e-commerce, it’s impossible for a brand to become global.
“A local business trying to find a global opportunity needs to be ready to respond to global consumer expectations. I feel sometimes Latin American brands are constantly seeking international representation without sometimes grasping the huge responsibility it entails,” she adds.
While proper e-commerce is still a hurdle in the region, Lacayo remains positive and believes that tackling issues of logistics are relatively simple in comparison to other issues. “The region, as a whole, is in a much better and more competitive place than other regions in terms of sustainable manufacturing and quality craftsmanship,” she says.
Where they both agree entirely is on the topic of timing; that one of the first issues which needs to be addressed is that Latin American brands must become aligned with international fashion calendars.
“It seems that everything here happens a couple of months later and slower than the rest of the market,” says Lacayo. “There is a need to professionalize the industry in Latin America, leave aside the romanticism of being just a creative and incorporating updated business practices in order to survive in this saturated market.”
In order to begin to bring together the industry and tackle the issues that face it, the support that Lacayo and Tams have created through LAFS goes well beyond the event itself. Throughout the year, the duo travel throughout Latin America promoting LAFS and supporting local designers.
“During these trips we meet with local designers and council them, promote networking and try to tap into local decision makers in order to try to find solutions and opportunities to grow that market,” says Tams.
While the conference has only just passed, the duo is in the planning stages of next year’s summit to take place in Miami, while the support of the Pitch to LAFS winner is already in motion.
“We will be hosting an event in Manhattan not even one month after the summit to celebrate this year’s winner, Maygel Coronel,” explains Lacayo. “This luxury swimwear collection took first prize, and was picked up by The Webster as a result,” proving when it comes to Latin America and fashion, these two women mean business.
WANT MORE LATIN AMERICAN FASHION? HERE ARE THE NAMES TO KNOW
The winner of this year’s Pitch to LAFS competition, the swimsuit brand has created pieces which, through the use of technical fabric, are one size fits all up to size 14. It promises to retain is shape and structure throughout the life of the fabric. An added bonus: they are high-design pieces that double as tops.
The Colombian designer is one of the biggest names in Latin American fashion with global recognition of her brand. Known for her colorful prints, romantic sensibility and Latin American flair, Ortiz’s recognition has earned her a just-released collaboration with the high street retailer, H&M.
The Mexican womenswear designer earned second place in this year’s Pitch to LAFS competition. Bringing Latin American color and style to feminine shapes in contemporary silhouettes, Goyri brings a modern perspective to Latin-inspired fashion.
In business for almost 30 years, the Tcherassi brand is a fully-fledged lifestyle line replete with hotels and a home collection. Her colorful yet elegant clothes are known for their superior construction and material.
The third place winner in the Pitch to LAFS competition, Collectiva Concepcion takes deep-rooted traditions of Mexican design and hand craft and applies them to elevated materials through finely-tuned techniques for rich, detailed pieces for the every day.
The Venezuelan Busquets is a philanthropist, investor, and entrepreneur. She is known for her pioneering vision and investment in the fashion-tech space. She is known for being the founding investor in Net-a-Porter and has since then invested a total of $64.5 million in fashion-tech companies.
The Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Mexico and Latin America, Martinez de Salas came up through the editorial ranks at respected fashion publications Elle, Interview, and T Magazine. Prior to Vogue, she was the fashion market and accessories director at W Magazine.
The director of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week San Jose, Jimenez has been integral in shifting traditional fashion week shows into a more integrated platforms for Latin American designers. They are also carbon neutral for five years in a row and are plastic free zone.