Latest fashion trends find Peruvian connections

Unlikely as it may seem, Canada’s francophone population in Quebec City and the citizens of Lima, Peru have a fair amount in common when it comes to the latest fashion trends.

It is widely recognized that Quebec City’s residents possess a true flair for style.  As do fashion-conscious Latin Americans, particularly in Peru’s capital city.  So it’s no coincidence that Lima has become an important supply link for some of the most prestigious labels in the world, as well as for Quebec’s own fashion trendsetter ‘Simons’.

“Initially, we were attracted by the high quality of Peru’s Pima cotton fabrics,” recalls Import Director Geneviève Bussière of her first encounter with the country’s fashion sector.

Diversification strategy

So when Canada’s Trade Facilitation Office (TFO) in Ottawa learned that Simons was keen to diversify production as well, Peru looked like an obvious choice.  A good one, as it turned out.  Simons, with seven stores in the Province of Quebec, is continually expanding its range of clothing using super-soft Pima cotton while outsourcing garment assembly to factories in Lima.

“With TFO’s help we found several manufacturers doing excellent work, and they are very nimble,” says Bussière.   “In the ‘fast fashion’ sector you need suppliers who can adjust quickly to changing trends and very tight deadlines.”

A family-owned firm since 1840, 15 designers in Quebec City create clothes marketed under Simons’ five in-house labels.  The first Pima cotton collection – a line of contemporary T-shirts for men and women – was launched in 2006.  So popular were these comfortable, high-quality T-shirts that Simons has added pyjamas, underwear, dress shirts and bed sheets.  Bermuda shorts and pants made with Pima cotton are planned for next year’s collection.

Social responsibility

Each Pima cotton garment carries an information tag describing its unique values.  Produced in Peru’s northern coastal valleys, careful hand-harvesting preserves the quality of the raw cotton, and fabrics are noted for their very high thread counts.  As a result, materials retain their natural brilliance, strength and suppleness even after repeated washings.

Not only does the Peru connection dovetail with Simons’ ethical trade and environmental practices, it also meets the social values many of its customers now look for.  Since countries signing free trade agreements (FTAs) with Canada – as did Peru in May 2008 – also agree to respect prescribed labour and environmental standards.

Interventions to help developing nations prepare for their new Free Trade status by agencies like Ottawa’s Trade Facilitation Office couldn’t have been better timed.

Prior to signing the FTA with Canada, Peruvian manufacturers had been reliant on large American brand-name clients, who were quick to cancel orders at the first sign of economic turbulence.  Thanks to TFO’s partnering efforts and program funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development, some Peruvian manufacturers have replaced lost U.S. orders with new Canadian business.

Smooth sailing

The path to these partnerships has been surprisingly smooth, notes Bussière.  Under the guidance of TFO, Simons visited Lima’s Peru Moda fashion exhibition.  An annual event, it brings the country’s textile producers, manufacturers and most avant garde designers together under one roof. This gave Simons a quick overview of Peru’s fashion industry.

Follow-up visits under the stewardship of TFO associate and fashion expert Abbey Lipman helped Simons make the most of each visit, resulting in working arrangements that endure to this day.

“In the fashion business travel time is so compressed, every minute counts,” explains Bussière.  “Having someone to guide us through a completely new market experience was critical to our successful partnerships with Peruvian suppliers.  Not to mention the success of our Pima cotton collections with customers here in Quebec.”