Business

Mexico tries to fashion a better international image

Mexican designer Juan Acevedo
Image caption Mexican designer Juan Acevedo says his country's reputation is unfairly negative

At the Mexican Design pop-up showroom in central London, colourful displays of carefully hung couture line the walls.

There's also a very impressive armchair shaped like a cactus, a DJ, and free-flowing cocktails made with the potent Mexican spirit Mezcal.

It's clear the organisers are trying to send a message of a very sophisticated Mexican design industry.

Mario Gonzalez is from Pro Mexico, the Mexican government's trade and investment agency that organised the event.

"Tonight is our first ever showroom with Mexican designers," he says. "The idea is to position Mexican designers in the UK. They're very well known in the States or other areas, but not in Europe.

"The idea is to bring it all together, have a unique message - which is [that] Mexico is talented, it's original, it's colourful, but it can also be modern - and bring it to buyers, bloggers, editors, people from the fashion world, and to normal people as well."

'Negative image'

Maria Fernanda is one Mexican designer in attendance at the event. Her leather handbags feature richly coloured panels of embroidery, sewn by craftspeople in the south of Mexico.

"All the materials are Mexican," she says. "We collaborate with artisans to try to protect our culture and not to fade away. We try to give them work and pay them well, to bring all this Mexican culture into the world."

Image caption Mexican clothing was on display at the pop-up event

Fashion designer Juan Acevedo was born in Mexico but decided to base his menswear company East Club, in Soho, London.

He's also incorporating some aspects of traditional Mexican design into his work.

"I'm doing a women's collection for next year. I'm going to have a lot of details from Mexican culture.

"What people think of Mexico is cheap tequila and sombreros, but that's not it. If you take something like an icon and turn it into something cool and contemporary, it can be quite trendy."

Image caption Mexican designer Juan Acevedo has established his business in the UK

Overcoming folksy stereotypes is only part of Mexico's image problem. The designers here say international news reports on the country focus exclusively on crime - especially murder among the drug cartels - when there are other stories to be told.

"Somehow the image in the UK of Mexico is really negative because the only thing you hear from Mexico is drug violence, but it's actually that day-to-day life in Mexico is very different from that," says Mr Acevedo.

"There are definitely problems... but it's actually an incredibly creative place."

'Happy challenge'

Mexico's ambassador to the UK, Diego Gomez Pickering, admits that the country has to work hard to overcome negative stereotypes.

"It is a challenge," he says. "But it's a happy challenge in the sense that not many things are said about Mexico, other than headlines in newspapers talking about organised crime.

Image caption Mexican handbag brand Royal Dalia is already a big hit around the world

"So this [design event] is a great way of telling all the other stories that happen in Mexico."

But can promoting local creative talent really change people's perceptions?

Jonathan McClory is an expert on soft power, the art of promoting a country through cultural and economic means, at London-based communications and public affairs company Portland Consultancy.

He says: "While Mexico has its advantages, it also has stereotypes that it has to deal with - drug cartels, violence, corruption in government, and perhaps economic reforms that aren't going quickly enough.

"So they do need to get out there and get their story across and promote themselves, and I think culture and creative industries is a good way to do that."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mexico's international reputation focuses on its problem with drug violence

Mr McClory adds: "And in fact, if you look at investment in Mexican government bonds long term, they're actually quite popular with foreign investors right now.

"It's an interesting comparison between long term bonds and short term bonds, which are much less popular.

"So it's almost like people feel that Mexico is a good long term bet."

Back in the pop-up showroom in London, Ms Fernanda has high hopes that the event will help introduce her accessories range to international buyers.

She says: "We would like obviously to gain the market in the United States and especially London, Milan - the capitals of fashion. We hope with this opportunity we can achieve that."

Next year, Mexico plans to bring pop-up stores to London, Madrid and Berlin.

While stories of drug wars will always make the headlines, the country is trying hard to promote creative businesses that can reflect a different national identity overseas.

Vivienne Nunis' radio report on Mexican fashion for the BBC World Service's World Business Report programme can be heard via the BBC's iPlayer Radio website. Full episodes of World Business Report programmes are also available.

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