Sunday, 3 July 2011

How Brazilian brands can conquer international fashion markets

(Isabela Capeto)

(Isabela Capeto's collection)

For all the enthusiasm from designers and buyers alike for the Brazilian brands showing at Pitti_W, the womenswear section to Florentine menswear show Pitti Uomo, there was some concern as to whether that enthusiasm would turn into sales. Brazil was the Guest Nation for the show’s spring 12 edition – a new initiative from organisers Pitti Immagine – and visitors (international buyers from boutiques and multi-brand retailers) praised the craftsmanship, fit and colour of the collections from the 10 Brazilian brands. But they were concerned about the price. Brazil has every opportunity to capitalise on the attention being showered on the country at the moment, but its fashion designers need to consider a few points if they are to succeed internationally. I have a few ideas on how they can do this…

But before I get on to that, I thought I’d share some background on my visit. Among the brands showing at Pitti was Isabela Capeto and I was fortunate to meet the eponymous designer, looking lovely in on of her creations (see picture). “The buyers liked the embroidery, the beauty, the fact that my collections are hand-made,” Isabela said to me. “But the Real [Brazilian currency] is so strong that the prices aren’t competitive. Also, Europeans like a ‘brand’.”
The problem for Isabela is that it can take up to one month to embroider one of her dresses, which wholesales for a staggering €500. And even though she is established in Brazil, the brand is little-known outside the country.

So, here’s how I think designers like Isabela can crack the international fashion market:

1. Adjust your pricing

If you’re selling a dress at wholesale for €500 and the average mark-up for retail is around 2.5 times, then a boutique will need to sell that dress for at least €1,250. You can buy a silk chiffon maxi dress from Matthew Williamson for that and, on a brand level, Brazilian designers will struggle to compete. So in order to maintain your margins, you may need to reconsider your sourcing options and supply chain. In Isabela’s case, she needs to find a way to reduce the amount of time it takes to make one dress if she is going to be more commercial across international markets. Perhaps the dress doesn’t need to be embroidered from head to toe?

2. Be commercial

The Brazilian brands at Pitti definitely stood out; each had its own handwriting and individuality, something every successful brand needs – without the right product, nothing else matters. But brands must also be commercial if they want to sell across markets and I didn’t think all the brands showing at Pitti did this. It doesn’t mean that you have to follow every trend, but you certainly need to be aware of wider, consumer trends and buying patterns. Are shoppers favouring cleaner, toned-down silhouettes over bold shapes, for example? I thought Brazilian footwear brand New Order was one of the most successful at fusing its Brazilian roots with commercial designs (see picture).

(New Order)

(New Order)

3. Network

Brazilian brands will have to work hard to compete on the same platform as established European and US brands. Identify which stores you want to be in and exhibit at the relevant trade shows. Get to know as many people as you can. And be at your stand…when I visited one of the Brazilian brands showing at Pitti, there was no-one there to talk to me. What if I was a buyer?

Have I missed anything? Could Brazilian brands do more to grow in international brands? What challenges are you facing, as a Brazilian fashion brand?


  1. Be innovative - there's a lot taking place in Brazil and as the sustainable and ethical market grows that is a niche that they can take a hold of. Make partnerships with other companies to help drive down costs and research working with someone like Instituto e which is partly run by the founder of Osklen.

  2. Excellent read. The Brazilian fashion industry, like all our other industries, stood for to long protected by barriers and far away from competition. Going to other markets means removing the barriers and facing them yourself, completely unprepared.

    Also, while it may be that our designers have great ideas, we lack skilled workers to produce them efficiently, all the way from clothes to our fabrics and raw materials. In the end, Brazilian garments are not particularly well made, which would be ok if the prices weren't so high.

    Part of this is because local fabrics aren't expectacular either and premium brands must rely on imports. In this case, all the barriers end up damaging them as it rises production costs. In the end we have creative people designing beautiful but costly products and without efficient workers to produce them.

    For example, I'd say the best menswear shops in Brazil charge Hackett prices for products with Banana Republic quality.