The heart of commerce in Bogotá. Under the premise "if it is not in San Victorino, it does not exist" the traditional neighborhood, located in the center of the Colombian capital, has established itself as a strategic axis for fashion in Colombia, since it is the point of sale for nearly 200,000 garments per month.
Located a few meters from the Casa de Nariño and the Mayor's Office of Bogotá, San Victorino has its origins in colonial times, when it was established as an obligatory point to leave the city towards the municipality of Honda, located around the Magdalena River bed, Colombia's main waterway, and where merchandise from the ports of Santa Marta and Cartagena arrived, receiving large quantities of products such as fabrics from Europe and the East.
At the end of the 1990s, the then mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa, decided to undertake an ambitious urban planning plan, which sought to transform various areas of the city. San Victorino was one of the areas chosen to undergo an image change, which included modernizing the main square, demolition of some buildings and street kiosks, and the construction of a Transmilenio station, the means of transportation in the Colombian capital. The plans of the local administration also included new security strategies in the hands of the national police.
A jean costs about 40,000 pesos (13.3 dollars) in the El Madrugón market, while brands like Studio F sell them for 170,000 pesos (56.5 dollars).
The Early Morning
In view of this new stage in San Victorino, El Madrugón is launched, a shopping day that was born as an initiative of businessmen in the sector, in order to boost sales to wholesale customers. Every Wednesday and Saturday, between 3 and 10 in the morning, both national and international buyers come to buy all kinds of merchandise, especially clothing and footwear.
Jeans are the jewels in the fashion crown of the sector whose prices can range between 40,000 pesos (13.3 dollars) and 50,000 pesos (16.6 dollars). Denim pants with similar characteristics at other local companies such as Studio F can cost 170,000 pesos (56.5 dollars).
According to the Wholesale Merchants Cooperative, during the days the different sales positions can serve between 100 and 300 customers who spend between 250,000 pesos (83.3 dollars) to 500,000 pesos (166.1 dollars), with transactions of wholesalers are the ones that make the difference, multiplying this figure by two. Although there are no official data, several businessmen from San Victorino agree that sales in the sector can reach up to 12,000 million pesos a day (39.9 million dollars).
El GranSan: the guide to fashion and trends in San Victorino
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The El GranSan shopping center, a platform specialized in wholesale trade, brings together 700 merchants from the fashion industry, whose production is 100% Colombian. In order to increase the consumption of the sector's products, the complex created the Wholesale Clothing Fair, which annually presents proposals from local merchants, as well as promoting business roundtables, academic agendas, and collaborations with Colombian designers.
San Victorino says no to Chinese trade
In view of the good economic performance of the sector, several Chinese merchants, who were initially the suppliers of Colombian companies, turned their eyes to San Victorino to set up their own points of sale in Bogotá, which led to a small boom of oriental businessmen in the sector. Initially, the profits were millionaires and the coexistence with the local neighbors was friendly.
However, 2017 has been characterized as a tough year for the fashion industry in the country due to a drop in consumption, fostered by the tax reform, and the increase in smuggling, which has led to local consumers to buy garments at lower prices, benefiting Chinese businessmen, who sold at lower prices than their Colombian competitors. They declared war on the Asian clothing, shoe and accessory merchants.
With a protest march, nearly 1,800 people demanded the support of local entities to stop the registration of Chinese companies in the sector. At one point in the confrontation several oriental establishments were affected. Not even the presence of the Chinese ambassador in Colombia, Li Nianping, could contain the spirits. The result is that several stores have lowered their blinds or have moved to other parts of the city. Likewise, Chinese citizens have presented evidence both at the Chinese consulate, defending the legality of their businesses and denouncing the discrimination to which they have been subjected in the sector.
From the Arabs to the ‘Bogotazo: the origins of San Victorino
Fashion began to gain strength in San Victorino thanks to Arab immigrants from Palestine or Lebanon, who, with their nose for business, became the largest textile merchants in the city, as well as the owners of the main women's and men's fashion stores during the first half of the 20th century.
Over time, local entrepreneurs began to launch their own businesses, such as Arturo Calle, who cemented his menswear empire on the streets of San Victorino, where he launched Danté, specialized in selling of shirts for men
On April 9, 1948, Bogotá was partially destroyed as a result of the riots caused by the assassination of presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, who died a few meters from the San Victorino square. This date, known as El Bogotazo, marked the beginning of the armed conflict in the country. The ravages of this day were decisive for the expansion of the Colombian capital to other latitudes, since many of the establishments were left in ruins and their owners decided to move many of the clothing points to other parts of the city such as the industrial zone of Montevideo, which today houses a large part of the workshops of major brands such as Pat Primo and Permoda.
In order not to stop receiving income from vacant properties, prices in the sector were set below those of other areas of the city, an opportunity that was taken advantage of by new businessmen who began to build factories and warehouses for women's and men's fashion, children's and intimate, as well as footwear, leather goods and costume jewellery. All of them sought to seduce a client from a low-medium and medium-high socioeconomic level, since the supply of stores that once served high society migrated to the north of the city.
Precisely, the consumer profile was the trigger for the consolidation of San Victorino as the largest wholesale fashion distribution center in Colombia, since it supplies merchants from intermediate towns and cities, as well as businessmen from Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. However, the economic boom in the sector brought great insecurity problems to the area, which for almost twenty years was plagued by thieves and raperos, who attacked unsuspecting passers-by.