Portugal Fashion 2019 at the forefront of textile innovation

The waters from the Douro river stay still and observe without blinking, they are in awe. The soft breeze blowing from Gaia has wrapped its slender body in a long blue dress and now strides along the river with its head high. Bare shoulders, hips that sway like a twist of fresh lime. It’s Portuguese fashion.

For a weekend in March, the magnificent Alfândega do Porto (old customs house) hosts the most important fashion event in the country: Portugal Fashion. Created by the Portuguese Textile Association (ATP) and the Association of Young Portuguese Entrepreneurs (ANJE), Portugal Fashion first came to life back in 1995, with the presence of top models like Claudia Schiffer, Elle McPherson and Carla Bruni among others.


“From the very beginning we understood that whe world needed to know Portugal was not only a textile-producer nation. We also have very good designers, we can create products of value,” said Manuel Serrão, CEO of Selective Moda. For six years he was VP of ANJE, and in this position he was the engine behind the success of Portugal Fashion.

Since 1999, Portugal Fashion has taken place twice a year, mostly in Porto, but also in other parts of the country in the past: Algarve, Madeira, Figueira da Foz and Lisbon. Besides the focus on fashion and design, Portugal Fashion offers a glimpse of local culture, business trends, advances in technology and sustainability. It is a reference for the bustling world of creativity and aesthetics of present-day Portugal.

Behind golden-rimmmed glasses, Manuel Serrão is a man who observes the world with the eye of a seasoned entrepreneur, someone who has changed the landscape of the textile and fashion industry in Portugal. “Every year I am involved in the set up of 85 fashion and culture events in 35 countries. All of this experience I’ve wanted to bring to Portugal Fashion. And anyone coming here today can see it, the kind of quality Portugal is able to deliver.” 

For the past 10 years the Portuguese textile industry has experienced a renaissance shown both in economic numbers and creativity output. “This is an industry responsible for more than 130,000 jobs and for 10% of national exports,” said Paulo Vaz, director of ATP. “In 2018 the total turnover reached almost 8,000 million Euros, and we are glad to see that the graph continues to point upwards.”

What makes the Portuguese textile industry unique is its cluster-like model: all segments of the value chain can be found in the country, mainly in the northern areas around Braga and Porto. These clusters give Portugal several competitive advantages including speed, flexibility, adaptability, and technical development.

“In Portugal we have the production in-house. We can test a new technology, get the results and go back to the lab immediately. Then we use the feedback of the results, and try again, and so on. It’s a circle of virtue,” said António Braz Costa, Director General of CITEVE (Technological Centre for Textile and Clothing Industries) and CeNTI (Centre of Nanotechnology and Smart Materials).

Besides the men’s and women’s clothing, Portugal has also been at the forefront of innovation in the “technical textile” segment, which includes: automobile industry, high competition sports, security, medical, and defense.

“We have been working on yet a new domain called cosmetic-clothing,” said Mr. Braz Costa. “How does it work? When the textile reaches 36.5 degrees and when a certain tension in the fibers is reached, tiny cup-like shapes are open and release the active element. After you wash the clothes, a spray is used to refill the tiny cups. What are the potential uses, you ask. To treat a skin condition, to get rid of cellulite, to name just a couple.”

One of the main challenges that any country faces is to develop a strong image on the stage of world’s brands. The way consumers shape their perceptions about a product or service is often mysterious, difficult to predict and explain. With the business concept of Private Label, Portugal has found a way to hone all its skills and pave the way to stand as a fashion-country second to none.

“Private Label allows us to have a lot of the design done here in Portugal, which develops the skills of our own designers,” said Paulo Vaz. “Plenty of international companies rely on Portugal to have successful collections. And that tells a lot of what we are able to deliver. We keep investing and developing ourselves.”

For four days the Alfandega do Porto was witness to more than 20 fashion shows, including those by well established Portuguese brands such as Concreto, Nuno Balthazar, Alves/Gonçalves, among many others.