In the rural area of Berilo, a small town in the Jequitinhonha Valley, a community of artisans who depend on cotton to produce their pieces in the bitter manual weaving of the sales desert during the pandemic. The lack of cotton on the market has worsened a context that was already discouraging. “Before it was discouraging, but now it has gotten a lot worse”, complains Selma Gomes. A member of the Association of Producers and Artisans of Roça Grande, she had her income compromised due to the lack of fairs and events, the main occasions for selling her handmade products. The fear is that the few artisans who still practice the art learned from ancestors will give up altogether.
This is not a problem restricted to the quilts and hammocks made by Selma and her business colleagues. The textile and clothing segment is going through a difficult time, due to the impact of the pandemic in the sector. In this real patchwork comes the lack of inputs, such as cotton, caused by the retraction of the industry, which was afraid to produce and not sell during the progress of the coronavirus. With lower production and the influence of the rise in the US currency, some products had an above average increase, which caused an imbalance in the sector. The drop in consumption motivated by social isolation and the lack of events, such as parties and weddings, helps to tack this sewing. The result: about 30% of Brazilian garments have gone down for good.
The 2019/2020 cotton harvest has not yet been finalized, but the expectation is for a reduction of 9.3% in the entire state of Minas Gerais. Only exports fell 49% during the pandemic, according to data from the Minas Gerais State Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (Seapa). It is estimated that the year will end with a 19.5% drop in textile production, according to the Brazilian Association of the Textile and Clothing Industry (Abit).
Another natural fiber that is missing is viscose. Along with cotton, the fabric ended up being preferred in times of pandemic, and exports grew. Clients from all over the world realized that clothes in these materials made the remote work routine more comfortable, as the clothes are lighter to stay at home, and the demand has grown, as explained by Rogério Vasconcellos, vice president of the Garment Industries Union of State of Minas Gerais (Sindivest-MG). Not to mention the interest of entrepreneurs in favoring foreign buyers. “It was more attractive to export than to supply the domestic market,” he adds.
With the fear of making large productions without the certainty of selling, Brazilian industries fell back on their production capacity, causing a subsequent decrease in retail stocks. As the realignment of textile production is a complex operation, which takes months, businessmen in the sector estimate that normality will only be achieved by the sector in the coming months. “The rate of decline in production was very frightening and reached 70%”, says Vasconcellos.
In order not to be so impacted by market fluctuations, the shopkeeper ends up having to balance himself in order not to fall from the jump. So it was with businesswoman Sheila Mayrink, who owns three underwear stores in the capital. When she noticed the general lack of items such as income and brackets, accompanied by a 20% increase in supplies, she preferred to anticipate her purchases even to handle orders for Black Friday and Christmas. “Several suppliers are not taking care of production, and there is a shortage of labor as well. This has generated a frenzy of anticipation of purchases ”, reveals store owner Sheila Momentos.
President of the Union of Spinning and Weaving Industries in the State of Minas Gerais (SIFT-MG), Rogerio Mascarenhas explains that the resumption of Chinese industrial activity should help put the mood of fashion and clothing in its place. “As production returns to normal levels, demand will adjust with supply,” he predicts.
An important thermometer when it comes to the clothing market, Barro Preto, a neighborhood in the Center-South region of the capital of Minas Gerais considered to be the hub of the sector, is somewhat out of fashion. In the tangle of properties once occupied by stores that sold clothes of all kinds before the pandemic, the region is now experiencing a renovation that will certainly redesign the retail and wholesale offer. The crisis caught businessmen in short trousers: it caused the closure of approximately 40% of stores and dropped revenue by 60%, according to Marco Polo, director of the Commercial Association of Barro Preto (Ascobap).
Also director of the Wholesale Trade Union of Fabrics, Clothing and Haberdashery of Belo Horizonte (Sincateva-BH), he explains that the calamity caused by the pandemic resulted in layoffs and losses, but also caused reflections on the need for change. If in party fashion the drop in sales reached 90%, the wholesale sector tends to grow, according to its perception. The reason? “Whoever had fabric in stock was favored in prompt delivery, as orders for fabric purchases will only be delivered next year,” he says. In this game of who loses and who wins, he has no doubt that the clothing trade will reinvent itself after Covid. “People are rethinking consumption, there is a lot of change. We are in the middle of a whirlwind, ”he says.
Before the whirlwind engulfed him, businessman Richard Cambraia decided to implement a sudden change in his 30-year business in Barro Preto. The fashion store Vida Nua party sold a thousand long dresses a month, but the virus melted sales, which fell 90%. Either he would take action or he would be left with a stock of stranded dresses, with nothing to celebrate.
“I reduced the space for dresses and started selling ‘modinha’”, she says. “Modinha” is the term that shopkeepers use to refer to more casual – and cheap clothes. When he understood that customers were choosing more to buy light and comfortable clothes to spend social isolation at home, he was the cue to adapt his enterprise.
With so much time in Barro Preto, Cambraia ends up having a softer view on the closing of so many stores in the region. “Several closed because rents did not go down, but now a new group is arriving, even people who had stores in the countryside and are coming to the capital,” he says.
After renovating his store, he himself reaps profits and celebrates a resumption flow, albeit timid. “There are people who see opportunities even in the crisis. Whoever is going to win is not the strongest or the fastest, it is the one who adapts best ”, philosophizes.
Considered the capital of lingerie, little Juruaia, in southwest Minas Gerais, is a point outside the curve of the generalized crisis that affects the textile and clothing market. While the crash, stranding and layoffs have stressed the majority of businessmen and shopkeepers in the sector, in the city of just 10,000 inhabitants the pandemic has had an incredible opposite effect. 20 years ago Juruaia did not sell as many underwear as now.
“In September, we broke our historical order record,” says José Antônio da Silva, president of the municipality’s Commercial and Industrial Association (Aciju). The increase in sales recorded in September was 140% in comparison with the same month of the previous year.
There are so many sales of underwear, panties, bras and pajamas that 2020 is not over and the factories in Juruaia have already beat the total sales of last year. Not only did they hit, they also passed by 27%, and Aciju boldly estimates that this rate of increase in business reaches 50%. Several brands have already sold their production for the rest of the year. “We are against other industrial centers”, celebrates the local representative.