MEDELLÍN, Colombia — Apparel chain Gef has launched Gef Men to take advantage of buoyant men’s wear sales in Colombia, where it hopes to operate 10 shops this year, according to brand director Ana Maria Gutierrez.
The expansion comes as the unisex apparel retailer Gef is moving to double its size to operate nearly 400 stores and exceed sales of $400 million by 2020, a feat it claims it can muster despite the region’s volatile economic outlook.
“The men’s category has performed very strongly and there is very little competition in Colombia,” Gutierrez said. “Last year our men’s sales grew 20 percent, compared to 6 to 7 percent for women’s.”
In recent weeks, Gef Men quietly opened three shops in Medellín, Bogotá and Cali, Gutierrez said. She would not detail future locations but noted the expansion will help the category account for 34 percent of Gef’s total sales in 12 months, up from 29 percent now.
Gef Men sells suits and more casual business clothes than Gef’s regular men’s line, with price points 10 to 15 percent higher.
“Blazers play a very big role,” Gutierrez said, adding that the banner also offers a broader and more fashionable range of jeans, shoes, accessories and clothing for special occasions.
Gutierrez said Gef Men has few rivals in Colombia save for domestic men’s chain Arturo Calle and Zara Men. Gef Men will carry a much wider selection than Zara Men while its target is younger than Arturo Calle, which focuses more on formal wear and leather, she said.
In the medium term, the fledgling line may open shops in Central America where Gef is already present in Costa Rica and Guatemala, Gutierrez said.
Gef is Colombian textiles and apparel group Crystal’s largest brand alongside underwear label Punto Blanco, which owner the Echavarria family is also expanding into Ecuador and South America. Crystal also operates toddler’s label Baby Fresh and socks brand Galax.
In four years, Gef wants to double its size to operate roughly 360 stores and deliver sales of 1.4 trillion pesos, or $427 million at current exchange, Grupo Crystal’s commercial vice president and acting chief executive officer Jose Vicente Calad revealed to WWD.
Currently, the affordable fashion chain has 180 stores, of which 140 are in Colombia and 40 in Central America, he said. Last year, sales totaled 700 billion pesos, or $213.5 million.
“We want to double our business to operate stores in Colombia and Central America but also in Peru and Ecuador,” Calad said, adding that the chain will own roughly 70 percent of future outlets and franchise the rest.
Crystal’s marketing vice president Luz Eugenia Gallo claimed Gef can meet its target despite a weakening economic outlook in Colombia and sluggish growth in Latin America, where GDP contracted last year though it is expected to recover in 2016.
The growth pace “will depend on how many locations are available and how many new shopping malls we open,” Gallo said. “It’s true that Colombia won’t grow at the same level but it’s also true that it is one of Latin America’s best performers.”
Gallo said Gef will continue to grow in Colombia and deepen its Central American foothold to include El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua and bolster in Costa Rica, Guatemala and the Caribbean including Dominican Republic.
Gef is similar to Spanish Inditex’s youngsters’ banner Pull & Bear but around 20 percent cheaper, according to Gallo.
In addition to Gef Men, “we don’t just want to open new stores, we also want to expand our existing ones and enter new categories in girls, boys, accessories and shoes,” Gallo concluded.