On the Colombian Fashion Industry
Por: José Luis Salinas, 11°
Colombia, of all the Latin American countries, distinguishes itself as an unrivaled center of cultural syncretism. The mixture of African, indigenous and Spanish cultures that birthed this nation, live today in perfect symbiosis and reside in the creative psyche of the Colombian fashion designer. Such a broad and enriched cultural background creates immense responsibility in the designer to do their culture justice. The presence of prints, bright colors, pleats, ruching, embroidery, and embellishments have almost become unmissable in national runways. Such traits and techniques are not inventions of the modern designer and rather have particularized the ethnic territories of Colombia for hundreds of years. That’s the first thing to be noted on Colombian fashion, it mimics reality.
The Wayú tribes in La Guajira are well recognized nation-wide for their craftsmanship in respect to their mochilas (bucket bags), intricately weaved in colorful patterns. For the Wayú weaving and crocheting is their utmost form of cultural representation, and is essential to the lifestyle of the clans’ women. In the 21st century, celebrated designers as is Silvia Tcherassi, have incorporated the craftsmanship of the Wayú into their collections, and given the Arawak people a place in the fashion industry. Nonetheless, the Wayú people are not being remunerated for their contributions and are now victims of the cultural appropriation of the Colombian elite. It’s not cultural appropriation per se, because different from a white man in North America, the Native-American culture is part of the modern Latin American’s background. This is because the process Latin America endured in the 15th century was a conquest, while the United States and Canada were colonized. However, the culture of Colombian natives is being perpetually exploited at the hands of the nation’s elite. The Wayú artisans are paid approximately 1% of the retail price for which their mochilas are sold in the international market. Tcherassi sells her bags at $450 dollars apiece when it’s highly doubtful these families make more than $30,000 Colombian pesos for their work. The Wayú are one of the most damnified communities in the nation, in the last couple years almost 5,000 Wayú children have died of malnourishment, ironically, their lands are the largest site of Colombian enrichment, el Cerrejón.
Is just enough proof for that. Colombian fashion designers just like the Spanish conquistadors in the 15th century, take and take away from the natives, and refuse to give anything back. That’s the second thing to be noted on Colombian fashion, its nature is obsessively exploitative.
Despite the latter and the fact that teenage girls are dressed like their forty/fifty-year-old mothers, who are dressed like they just survived the Inquisition, there is much to be appreciated of the Colombian fashion industry. Colombian fashion is outgoingly naive, it’s bold and unafraid. The linens and satins, dressed in florals and stripes, decorated with lavallieres, draping, and tiers, and puff sleeves so extravagant in their own non-camp manner, are definitely something to highlight from Colombian fashion. It’s so different from everything that the global industry provides, despite it being locally static, it remains innovative to the world. Colombian fashion designers are so estranged from the haute-couture aesthetics and norms, that their authenticity is incomparable and remains uncompromised. It’s true that in Colombia, everyone is kind of making the exact same thing, which is not the case for countries as fashion-forward as France and Italy, but this fear will fade.
It’s difficult for a designer to abandon the local couture cosmovision, so they keep taking risks in the same areas. That’s the reason why the industry seems now so static because the growth is proportional and simultaneous in most designers. As for its elitist exploitative nature, an impending revolution is awaiting in our approach, a time will come when our ethnic roots will be valued and reimbursed. A time will come when Colombians leave their fears of development aside and change the industry for good. This time is not too far away now, I feel it in my gut.