Home­grown fash­ion bursts onto the scene

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By ASSOCIATED PRESS in Ha­vana

Like so much else in Cuba, shop­ping for clothes isn’t easy.

Buy­ing a sim­ple pair of socks or a T-shirt means choos­ing be­tween the wildly over­priced, shoddy of­fer­ings of state-run stores and the bales of low-priced cloth­ing il­le­gally im­ported by “mules’’ trav­el­ing from the United States, Ecuador or Panama.

This year, a third op­tion is burst­ing onto the scene after years of grow­ing qui­etly in back­room work­shops and bed­room stu­dios. A small home­grown fash­ion in­dus­try is win­ning renown and an in­creas­ing share of Cubans’ lim­ited cloth­ing bud­get with sim­ple but fu­nand-stylish cloth­ing pro­duced on the is­land with nat­u­ral fab­rics and sold at com­pet­i­tive prices.

Hun­dreds of pri­vate de­sign­ers are turn­ing out gauzy wed­ding dresses, bril­liantly dec­o­rated bathing suits, linen pants and even uni­forms for state busi­nesses. Last week, dozens of de­sign­ers dis­played their wares at the five-dayHa­vana Fash­ionWeek at Cuba’s most ele­gant the­aters, where hun­dreds turned out for run­way shows, pri­vate fit­tings and cock­tail par­ties.

“The changes that have taken place in this coun­try, the open­ings, make things eas­ier,’’ said Je­sus Frias, a de­signer who put on a swimwear run­wayshowonFri­day. “There’s a fash­ion re­nais­sance in­Cubabut it can’t be a pri­or­ity for the state, so it’s we pri­vate de­sign­ers who are bring­ing it back.’’

The growth of the ar­ti­sanal fash­ion in­dus­try comes thanks to free-mar­ket re­forms put in place byPres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro after he took power in 2008. Un­like some new pri­vate busi­nesses, the fash­ion in­dus­try is re­ceiv­ing a rel­a­tively warm wel­come from the bu­reau­cracy, per­haps be­cause it doesn’t di­rectly com­pete with the state.

After suc­cess­ful runs in the first decades of Cuba’s so­cial­ist rev­o­lu­tion, staterun cloth­ing busi­nesses were hurt by the col­lapse of the Soviet Union and had largely dis­ap­peared by the mid-1990s.

Celebri­ties and fash­ion­istas have made Ha­vana a hot desti­na­tion over the last two years amid a boom in tourism set off by de­tente with the US.

Pri­vately de­signed clothes re­main out of reach for Cubans on state salaries of about $30 a month, but those with pri­vate-sec­tor jobs or help from fam­ily over­seas can af­ford them. Mario Freixas, a well-known de­signer who dresses many of the stars of state-run tele­vi­sion, sells shirts for $20 and men’s and women’s pants for $30.

Along­side the do­mes­tic mar­ket, Cuba’s own de­sign­ers are hop­ing that their lightweight blouses and fringed swim­suits will be­come pop­u­lar items for vis­i­tors to take home.

“We all have high hopes for the tourism boom,’’ Frias said. “I don’t think any­one comes to Cuba to buy im­ported cloth­ing.’’

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