Innovation and customer centricity where the key words at the IAF’s 30th International Apparel Federation (IAF)’s Convention in Medellin, Colombia.

The event, which took place Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, attracted more than 300 delegates to discuss a 12-step agenda of specific industry challenges ranging from retailing to digital marketing to mentoring young designers.

Brands such as Adriano Goldschmied’s GoldSign, Desigual, Walt Disney and VF Corp. were some of the highlights at the event, which also saw the IAF reveal a changing of the guard.

Goldschmied was the first to trumpet global brands’ need to bolster innovation and put the customer at the center of their strategy to boost sales. He said GoldSign, facing weakening sales from a lack of innovation in the $50 billion global denim market, has launched a new variety of active denim to help brands win new customers. Made from blending indigo, nylon and polyester, the fabric is already generating orders from large players including G-Star and Diesel, Goldschmied said.

He claimed the high-stretch material adds a new comfort level to jeanswear, reeling from consumers’ shift toward leggings and yogawear.

“This has the performance of an activewear fabric, stretching as much as 80 percent in a diagonal way,” Goldschmied said, adding the material can be used to make leggings and other best-selling activewear.

In a presentation called “Transforming the denim business,” Goldschmied chronicled a series of personal milestones in the denim sector, including selling his 70 percent stake in Diesel to co-founder Renzo Rosso in 1986 for just $1 million, “back when Diesel was not worth what it is now.”

Desigual’s Latin America director Horacio Broggi’s presentation also generated much buzz. Broggi told how the Spanish chain has developed an $829 million enterprise from sales of just $8 million 12 years ago.

In his speech titled “establishing multiple contacts with the consumer. Omnichannel Strategy,” Broggi detailed how the brand has won customers’ hearts trough “happy and casual” apparel themed on humans’ basic needs for “sex, fun and love.”

Striving to give all customers a “Desigual” moment, the firm has managed to establish 17,000 points of sale including 440 shops worldwide. It even has a “happymetro” (happymeter) to monitor employees’ work satisfaction levels, which Broggi said has helped boost staff loyalty and productivity.

World Bank trade specialist Emiliano Duch said the institution is rejigging its financing strategy to help poor nations set up fast-fashion start-ups to drive economic growth. Brands could benefit from shifting production to countries near top markets (near-sourcing) and away from ultra-low cost ones (or production models), emulating Zara-owner Inditex’s highly successful strategy, which he described as “the Zara lesson.”

By doing this, companies can save money while helping developing nations move into the booming fast-fashion game,” said Duch.

That said, many poor countries don’t have the necessary transport and export infrastructure to meet global brands’ demands while a huge educational gap remains a challenge. This will make the fast-fashion transition challenging but not impossible.

“Zara was created in Galicia, one of Spain’s poorest regions, through a series of small apparel shops, some even in the informal market. But with sweat and tears, they built the company with very little financing,” Duch said.

Rahul Mehta, who was named IAF’s new president at the event, said heavy investments to install the necessary equipment and manufacturing technology will be needed to persuade brands to move manufacturing closer to market.

Mehta, who heads the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI), said the World Bank will likely fork out the bulk of these funds. “These countries’ garment industries are not aided by their governments in any big way,” Mehta said, referring to Asian, African and Central American nations where short-runs could eventually be relocated. “The World Bank is going to spend money to build apparel parks in these countries.”

Stefan Siegel, founder of emerging-designer platform Not Just A Label, spoke about the need to promote rising talent as a way to boost brands’ appeal with ever-demanding global consumers.

He detailed how the company has become one of the world’s largest Web site marketing young designers’ wares, allowing its 17,000 members to retain 70 percent of a garment’s sales and providing coaching and other developmental services.

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