SÃO PAULO, Brazil — “I didn’t even know international trade fairs existed when I set up my business in 2003,” admitted Alessandra Migani, founder of Brazilian designer label Alessa. “I got a phone call from ABIT (the Brazilian clothing and textile association) telling me they wanted to show my collection at trade show Simm in Madrid,” she told BoF from her stand at womenswear show Who’s Next in Paris earlier this month, where she was showing her Autumn/Winter collection. Fast forward to 2011 and Ms Migani now sells her brand to some 30 countries and boasts an impressive list of stockists. She also shows at Rio de Janeiro’s fashion week, Fashion Rio.
With Brazil’s huge domestic market, most of the country’s fashion designers — save for a few international success stories like Osklen and Carlos Miele — had been quite content to live in their South American bubble. Then while the US, followed by Europe, hit financial meltdown in 2008, Brazil was still sitting pretty on economic growth. Suddenly, all eyes (and not just those in fashion) were on a country that, until then, had been largely synonymous with football, bikinis and samba. Suddenly, more emerging Brazilian fashion designers, operating both inside and outside the country, had a tremendous opportunity to be noticed on the global stage.
So, while once upon a time, the country was mostly known for its manufacturing capabilities, today, international press and buyers are focusing their attention on Brazil, eager to uncover fresh design talent. “Some people still tend to think of swimwear, but that’s just not the case anymore,” said Jessica Bumpus, fashion features editor of Vogue.co.uk, which covered the two major Brazilian fashion platforms São Paulo Fashion Week and Fashion Rio for the first time last season. “What’s great about Brazilian fashion is that it’s fresh — some ideas we may have seen elsewhere in the past, but here they are done in quite a different way.”
But while Brazil’s relative youth in the global fashion market may have its advantages, emerging designers here still face significant cultural obstacles that they must overcome if they are to succeed internationally. “Brazilian fashion designers rarely break through in the US and UK because of language and cultural barriers,” explained Scott Mitchem, a US-based journalist who writes about Brazilian culture for Wallpaper and The New York Times. He advises designers to ramp up their PR efforts by building a team that understands the culture in both Brazil and export countries, and points to established brands such as Osklen and Lenny Niemeyer as role models.
As the Brazilian fashion weeks’ Autumn/Winter 2011 editions draw to a close, it is those designers who combine creativity with commercial nous that the global fashion industry should keep a close eye on. BoF spoke with a number of editors, buyers and other experts, both inside and outside the country, to suss out the top new names on their Brazil fashion radar.