San Juan Moda, Puerto Rico’s fashion week, had a special guest on the runway this year when Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, served as a model.
Gonzalez-Colon explains to Puerto Rico news outlet Noticel that she wanted to support Puerto Rico’s fashion industry, and to send a message of self-confidence to “gorditas.” “There have to be fashion options for everyone,” she said.”So we are all beautiful, no matter what size, and I believe that we must reinforce the self-esteem of many women in Puerto Rico and men too, who think because they do not fall within the stereotype of the perfect size, they cannot look good or dress well.”
Puerto Rico’s fashion industry
Puerto Rico has a long history in the apparel industry. Home production of needlework, especially embroidery, constituted most of Puerto Rico’s manufacturing trade in the early 20th century, and produced what scholar Aimee Loiselle described as “scaffolding” for Operation Bootstrap, the government-sponsored movement toward industrialization in Puerto Rico.
Workers in this early trade earned 1 to 8 cents an hour. In 1934, a government report estimated that 7,000 workers were employed in 85 factories, with another 70,000 working from their homes, primarily doing hand embroidery.
The government website reports that 30,000 workers are currently employed in clothing factories in Puerto Rico. Average income in manufacturing in Puerto Rico is now $7.85 per hour. However, the clothing industry in Puerto Rico is not equal to the fashion industry. One of the largest apparel production companies in Puerto Rico is Bluewater Defense, a company that specializes in military uniforms and wearable technology. Bluewater has been involved in the testing of new robotic sewing technology developed with support from the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute of the Department of Defense.
Production of protective gear for healthcare workers has also been important in Puerto Rico during the pandemic, combining Puerto Rico’s textile experience with the Island’s strength in the production of medical devices and pharmaceuticals for the healthcare industry.
But Puerto Rico is also working to expand its involvement in high fashion. Designers like Lisa Thon, Lisa Cappalli, and Miriam Budet have been showing their designs in New York and Paris as well as at the semi-annual San Juan Moda shows.
The rise of ecommerce during the pandemic has also been good for Puerto Rican fashion. In 2019, 79% of Puerto Rico business owners in a survey by the Federal Reserve said that they had no income from online sales. Fashion boutiques and apparel companies now routinely offer ecommerce options.
Gonzalez-Colon modeled the design of Lissa Porrata, who has designed clothing for her throughout her career. She expressed appreciation for Atelier Lissa Porrata’s awareness that larger women also want to dress well and look good.
“This type of event helps to project what fashion is here in Puerto Rico,” the congresswoman said. “We have to provide exposure for all of our dressmakers, who are world class.”