Epson’s Colombia Head Discusses Textiles Entrepreneurship with Finance Colombia
Epson launched its SureColor F9200 dye sublimation printers at Colombiatex, Colombia’s textile industry trade show this year. The SureColor line of dye sublimation printers allow designers and producers to print intricate, full color designs either directly on fabric, or on papers transferrable to fabric, for use in the fashion industry, as well as wholesale and retail custom printing shops. During Colombiatex, Epson held a fashion show with models featuring Epson printed fabric to demonstrate capabilities.
Promoting this technology, Epson also sponsored Colombian fashion designer Felipe Santamaria’s participation in New York Fashion Week, which took place earlier this month. Santamaria, a Bogotá native was selected through a competition organized by Epson to select a Colombian to represent the country during New York Fashion Week’s Digital Couture project.
25 years old, Santamaria studied fashion design at the Escuela de Mercadeo y Moda Arturo Tejada (Arturo Tejada Marketing and fashion School.) and launched his career on the design team of Hernán Zajar as an intern, eventually promoted to chief designer for the brand. After 3 years, he left to develop his own brand, LENERD which has been shown in domestic events like Bogota Fashion Week and Caliexposhow.
To understand Epson’s focus on textiles in Colombia, Finance Colombia’s executive editor Loren Moss caught up with Epson’s general manager for Colombia, Francisco Valderrama for insight on where Epson sees the opportunity in Colombia’s textiles industry, especially in light of a recent slowdown in the Andean economy.
Finance Colombia: Epson seems to have an interesting strategy for Colombia. You launched the Ecotank inkjet printer series in Colombia even before you launched it into the United States. At the high end you have this line of dye sublimation printers. How have sales been going? Everyone is talking about the deceleration of the economy, is that affecting you?
Francisco Valderrama: Well, look at both products (Ecotank and the dye sublimation line). As you already know Ecotank, both products come from the same source. We sold equipment which was traditionally to print at home. It was very low-priced equipment. And obviously with time, we recuperated our investment with the ink consumption. We decided because of the economical situation that exists in Latin America, not this year but we are talking about five years ago; with these two technologies, to think about the user. So, what is Ecotank? Ecotank is a printer that has a higher price than the common printers you find in the marketplace, but the cost of printing represents a very big boost in economy for the user.
If we move to the dye sublimation printers, what is the goal of our dye sublimation printers? It is to open opportunities to small businesses: The traditional garment manufacturer who has his or her workshop at home, in the garage, in the living room; the lady that does embroidery and makes decorations; they can do something different. They can do something different for fashion offerings: Provide a personalized alternative at a very low cost. The very low cost is for profitability. You have to make an initial investment, which is clear not only on the printer, but on the thermal (heat transfer) plate. But once you have this investment, which is really small for what it represents—we are offering products that would give the user a profitability superior to 25%, depending on the sale price.
And what you get to offer the market is a unique product. Not to compete against the big brands, or a chain store, but a local business or sector or a certain segment. The sports segment for example. For us it’s crazy, because there is skating, cycling, soccer—and so then I sell uniforms each marked with its own name and number. Well, where would you get that opportunity¿ It is not easy. Since it’s digital. I can do it in a single print run, name, number, and it’s out. Now, if you produce this, then it opens the opportunity for the user. In this case the user is not the buyer but the shop owner; to offer alternatives to the way it is done these days. Until now you would have to silk screen or embroider all of the logos of the leagues and sponsors, and that does not represent significant profits or quality. So now we can provide quality, and quality that renders profitability. So it’s the same as Ecotank, it is to give the opportunity to economize and become profitable.
Finance Colombia: Apart from that, for example retail: I imagine there are also applications that are very useful for designers and couture, because fashion changes so much. If you do not like something, you can change everything.
Francisco Valderrama: Right, what happened to the fashion design students? What have they learned? It’s now a world that they could not have imagined. Before they thought in terms of a style that had wide sleeves, that was close fitting to the body, that had similar necklines, but never put much thought into the designing of the fabric. Now you tell them that they not only have to design the garment but they also have to design the fabric. They are crazy—crazy in the sense that many do not know what to do. We are supporting the Arturo Tejada Cano design school; one of the most famous here in Colombia. Arturo was telling us over here. “Look, it’s amazing what this means for a student. In the second semester, they begin to start printing, and they do a lot of crazy things.” Last year, we took one of these students with us to the New York Fashion Week. This year we will take another. But it has been a very difficult lesson. Because many of them become so crazy trying to design something unique, that they go to the other extreme. Others, who are more timid, design very basic fabric which is not justified.
Finance Colombia: Here we are in Medellin, a city that has traditionally been a textile industry center. Even though this industry has changed a lot over the decades, what impact has this technology had on the traditional textiles industry, apart from designing, apart from sewing, but talking more about the process of commercializing textiles?
Francisco Valderrama: Annually, we are selling about 300 small sublimation machines. I’m not talking about to the big multi-million dollar industries, no, none of that. It’s what we were talking about at the beginning, of small garment manufacturers with this 44 inch-machine. That is what shows that there is tremendous potential for us, but also for the entrepreneur there is a great opportunity. It’s like taking that step that they had feared, because when you have a sewing shop that handles 5 sewing machines, 2 sergers and a cutting machine, and the people that sew. This can widen the spectrum of customers that they can service, actually. And I can say based on our knowledge of ink sales that this business is multiplying easily between 30-45% annually. This is our fourth year at Colombiatex, and I must acknowledge the economic situation has been a brake on the economy. It has decreased the number customers, but we have returned this year to sell more than 100 machines.