Author: Sonja Dumas
That the world global apparel market, in pre-pandemic 2020, was $527.1 billion suggests that the fashion segment has a solid future, despite the pandemic decline in income. A 2008 Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) report dubs it: “one of the most important sectors of the economy in terms of investment, revenue, trade and employment generation all over the world.”
This also translates to market potential for Caribbean fashion producers. In the pandemic world, things might not look as rosy, but there are still opportunities. Caribbean producers should likely stick to the medium and high-end segments of fashion. Why? Probably because larger economies like China have likely cornered the market by sheer economies of scale for other garments such as industrial or professional wear.
Additionally, the fashion segment is where the Caribbean could likely bring a level of distinctive aesthetics, born in and of the unique natural and cultural phenomena of the region. Differentiation is the key. Robert Young, founder and designer of the highly celebrated The Cloth, also points out that Caribbean designers do not have to produce clothes for three seasons per annum; the Caribbean climate is uniformly warm.
Caribbean designers (with the possible exception of Rihanna, whose US$1.4 billion fortune is, in part, composed of a lingerie line made outside of the region) would likely stay in the niche zone. Niche marketing might also enable fashion producers to scale up production at manageable levels. Young cites the issue of size as a both an asset and a liability: “People have established long-standing relationships…and we can easily adapt.”
But the economies or scale are still an issue. But perhaps one solution is to go even smaller – making niches within niches, per se. Case in point: the bespoke tailoring training programme offered in Trinidad and Tobago in 2019. Training twenty high-end tailors, the programme positions the graduates as world-class crafters of suits, employable worldwide.
And what of the industry in the current COVID dispensation? Young says that the industry – COVID or no COVID – could benefit from cooperatives for manufacturing across countries, as well as for fabric-making and dyeing. But the industry needs government support to get their products to markets out of the region, he says. A cry that many entrepreneurial units in the Caribbean have made and continue to make.
Still, the Caribbean imagination could perhaps fuel the rebirth of what is a cherished regional enterprise – clothes with a distinctively Caribbean style.
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