Colombia: Medellín: The corset capital of the world | United States
Marcela Londoño is proud of the discipline of her 14 year old daughter. “She wears her corset very diligently,” she says, as she receives fat-burning injections in her own arms. Londoño has been wearing corsets for years, she adds, not because she likes them, but to help with the operation. With slicked back black hair and a waist she’s worked hard to achieve, Londoño leans on the scalpel and lots and lots of corsets. It is far from unusual. Such conversations can be regularly overheard at hairdressers in the Belén neighborhood in the Colombian city of Medellín, the corset capital of the world.
Tightening, reinforcing and reshaping are part of the daily life of many women in Medellín, but it is also a thriving export business, employing thousands of people. For fans of the United States, Peru, Spain and Mexico, where the demand is greatest, a Colombian corset is synonymous with quality. Now they are even making forays into the Middle East.
The numbers are particularly impressive given that the textile industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Between January and June 2021, sales of Colombian ducts abroad increased by 146% compared to the same period in 2020, and generated 45.5 million dollars (39.5 million euros). “Today, Colombia is one of the world leaders in exports and has established itself as a competitive supplier offering products with technology and quality,” says Flavia Santoro, president of ProColombia, a government agency in export promotion.
China remains the world leader in the production of corsets, but their products aim to reduce volume, while Colombia has evolved to mold new shapes, says Juan Fernando Loaiza, economic research specialist at the Inexmoda fashion institute. in Colombia. Innovation is the key to success in the world of fajas, as corsets are known in Spanish. “Latinas women are often associated with curves and are demanding. Manufacturers have had to develop better and better clothes, ranging from shaping belts to lifting jeans, ”says Loaiza.
But the history of this company, which is today the pride of a textile city like Medellín, is also associated with the past that it wants to forget: the legacy of the boss of the cartel Pablo Escobar and drug trafficking. In the 1980s, drug bosses used women as centerpieces and paid for their plastic surgery. Many surgeons have asked their patients to wear belts after surgery, sometimes consisting of little more than bandages. This obsession with a strictly modified morphology is still present today. “Beauty contests, so important in Colombia, have also influenced the aesthetic ideal. Today everyone is trying to transform their body, through exercise or surgery. Corsets are another form of transformation, ”adds Loaiza.
The ability to see the things that others are missing is also considered a hallmark of the people of Medellín. For years there were only a few corset manufacturers, but according to José Giovanni Pacheco, director of Fájate – which is one of the biggest in the industry – there are now around 2,300 shapewear companies and around 190 with large-scale exports.
Fájate was born 30 years ago in a garage in the city and now exports to the United States, Iran, Russia and Africa. A surgical nurse and a fashion designer joined forces to start the business, starting with a line of girdles designed for postoperative and postpartum clients. “Surgery made corsets possible,” says Juan Pablo Avendaño, international sales manager for the company, which employs more than 400 people. According to the International Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (Isaps), 413,512 surgeries were performed in Colombia in 2018.
Over the years, the business has become more sophisticated. Opening a magazine featuring models of all sizes, Avendaño presents 98 types of shapewear: bodysuits, control underwear, swimwear, sports belts, belts, strapless items, leggings, all with different levels of control, with a endless options.
Claudia Machado is a fashion designer at Diane & Geordi, another exporter of corsets based in Bogotá. “The key to Colombian shapewear is the quality and durability of the fabrics. So many years of studying the body and bone structure of women have led us to create products that improve without too much pain for women, ”she says.
In an age when many women are trying to form a healthier, more tolerant relationship with their bodies, these companies are turning to more comfortable products. “People always imagine wasp-type belts or corsets, but now we also have control sportswear, which helps support the body during exercise, or swimwear,” says Loaiza.
The Kardashian effect
The reputation of Colombian girdles reached its peak in 2015, when American media personality Kim Kardashian posted on Instagram a photo of her 260 million followers wearing a corset made in Colombia by the Ann Chery brand. Kardashian then launched her own brand of shapewear called Skims. It caused a sensation in Medellín, where the image of the corset received a major international boom. “She walks in marketing,” says Avendaño. Strictly speaking, corset influencers agree that Skims aren’t tight enough to make a huge difference.
The Kardashian effect also removed the stigma that came with corsets. Now worn as outerwear, they can be showcased in bright colors or an animal print. However, not everyone wears them in plain sight. In the Middle East, where Colombian shapewear is arriving in force, they are worn under traditional dresses. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are among the top destinations for exports, according to Inexmoda. “The growth there coincides with the fact that these are countries where per capita spending is high for ‘modest’ fashion. The challenge is to know the culture and the differences and to understand what can be shown ”, explains Loaiza.
The effect of millions of people working from home during the pandemic sent an earthquake shock to Medellín’s corset market. After months of quarantine and with gyms closing, women between the ages of 35 and 55 – the main buyers – turned to these clothes again for some control over their bodies.
Maria del Sol Gaviria, 43, started wearing them a year ago for exercise. Her daughter, Juanita Prada, 23, followed her example, but under her clothes and for special occasions. Business is booming, says designer Claudia Machado. With a market so deeply rooted in local culture and the interest of many women – and more and more men – in shaping their bodies, flattening their tummies, lifting bust and buttocks, the Medellín corset is poised to continue its trend. travels in closets around the world.