Colombiamoda, Colombia’s largest fashion trade fair, saw expected sourcing contracts nearly double to $250 million this year as a growing number of international buyers were drawn to the event, held in Medellín from July 23 to 25.

Last year, Colombiamoda saw proceeds from potential manufacturing business reach $137 million. But the addition of two new sourcing fairs — Textiles2 and Moda para el Mundo (“Fashion for the world”) — added $46 million and $18 million, respectively, to this year’s results.

Colombiamoda alone, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, saw contracts jump to $186 million.

Underscoring the event’s strong growth and prospects, Procter & Gamble said its Pantene and Max Factor brands will be in charge of model styling until 2015 after fulfilling the role for this year’s 27 runways.

Colombiamoda attracted 650 exhibitors and 20,000 visitors. The “knowledge pavilion,” which hosted 23 industry strategy panels, drew 15,000 people and 37,600 unique online visitors, becoming Latin America’s “most important space” for free training and fashion courses, export and fashion institute Inexmoda said.

Meanwhile, export promotion agency Proexport helped lure 789 buyers, up from 756 last year, according to apparel promotion director Catalina Hernández. The mission helped generate $95.5 million in potential sourcing opportunities compared with $87 million last summer. According to Hernández, U.S. sourcing contracts rose 50 percent, with other large gains stemming from Ecuador, Mexico and Central America. The U.S. buyer count rose 15 percent to 124, though the biggest increase came from neighboring Ecuador.

Venezuelan buyers also rose 11 percent, reflecting a possible truce in Colombian and Venezuelan political affairs, which have been strained for years. The impasse has hurt Colombian exports to Venezuela, once a key market.

Venezuela’s new president, Nicolás Maduro, and Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, met recently to find ways to strengthen relations to boost commerce and tackle long-running security and contraband problems between both nations.

Carlos Eduardo Botero, president of Inexmoda, hoped a meeting between the countries’ leaders on Friday would yield positive results.

“The Venezuelan market is very important for Colombia,” Botero told WWD. “We are ready to send product to Venezuela, but we need to see an improvement in their payment processes. We hope this meeting will bring more clarity on this issue.”

According to Botero, Venezuela has failed to make timely payments to Colombian suppliers, encouraging them to find business elsewhere.

Contraband apparel (which accounts for 30 percent of Colombian clothing sales) originating from Venezuela but also from Panama (or via Panama) must also be urgently tackled in the upcoming meeting, Botero said.

At the fair, Hernández noted U.S. buyers sought beachwear and underwear for the plus-size market, as well as sportswear, jeans and cruise-sector uniforms. Other foreign buyers sought similar products for their fast-fashion collections as Colombia continues to transform itself into a supplier of short production runs with “high value and design.” As part of this mission, the city is working to become a production and export hub for international brands looking to export from Colombia, which has free-trade agreements with the U.S. and Europe.

“There are several brands exploring manufacturing opportunities, mainly from the U.S. and Europe,” Hernández said, adding that Proexport is rushing to attract these, as well as Latin American and Asian brands to install production facilities in Medellín to boost employment.

On that note, a fair space designed to foster strategic alliances, joint ventures and franchising opportunities between Colombian and foreign labels is set to generate 400 jobs from the expected opening of 225 clothing stores. The space, called New Business Models Inexmoda-Masfranquicias, drew $26 million in potential business opportunities.

Meanwhile, Medellín’s City Hall said it continued to boost spending to support emerging designers and brands with $79 million earmarked to support 25 designers this year. According a spokesman, the program generated more than $100 million in potential business contracts for the designers, which featured their wares in a section called Vogue Talents Corner.

Up-and-coming label Especia praised the program for helping it sharply increase sales from new buyers, notably South Africa and Brazil. Another designer, Adriana Santacruz, said City Hall and Banco de Bogotá financed her stand and runway show called Relámpago (“Thunder”), which helped publicize her with potential customers in New York and London, where she hopes to open doors in the next three to five years. Santacruz, a maker of high-end, contemporary women’s apparel inspired by Colombian indigenous cultures and themes, hopes to triple production to 3,000 units by 2017.

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