I have been helping out with a recent trade visit of a group of clothing buyers to Portugal over the last few days, run by the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce (BPCC). The trip was based around Porto Fashion Week (Modtissimo) and we flew out some buyers from the UK to visit the event and then to spend a couple of days visiting clothing factories in the north of Portugal, where most of the textile industry is concentrated.
It is an important event for the BPCC, not least because it is a chance to bring prospective clients over to visit BPCC members’ factories. It was fascinating speaking to the buyers, as there is a growing interest in sourcing more clothing from European countries rather than the Far East, particulary for mid- to high-end items. For a UK based company, sourcing from somewhere like Portugal can really make a lot of sense as there is a very skilled workforce available and some very advanced producers, just two hours away by plane rather than half way round the world to China or wherever. You can get very quick turnarounds in Portugal and overland shipping is generally less than five days and of course it is one of the lowest cost clothing producers in Europe, particularly considering the quality of the workmanship that is available.
There are approximately 6000 companies in the textile industry in Portugal, employing 150,000 people and invoicing €6.3 billion a year. The change in the Portuguese textile industry over the last 10 years has been remarkable – whereas before it was a cheap and cheerful centre of production, the industry had the rug pulled from under it’s feet by Far East imports, with whom it was impossible to compete on price alone. The sector had to reinvent itself and become more specialist and higher-end and the country now boasts a range of factories producing some of the highest quality garments in Europe for an array of premium brands.