1 Aug 2018
Exhibitors at Mexican Furniture Expo Unbowed by US Trade Threats
While acknowledging their current reliance on their wealthy neighbour, many Mexican furniture businesses remained optimistic that their skill sets and commitment to quality would allow them open up a number of new export markets.
At the entrance to Decoestylo, Mexico's leading furniture and furnishings show, stood a specially-built brick wall. It carried a crude caricature of – and defiant message to – the US president. This special installation was a striking statement of Mexico's difficult relationship with the US and reference to President Donald Trump's promise to build a physical barrier between the two countries.
Mexico is America's third-largest trading partner, after Canada and China. In 2015, trade between the two countries was worth about US$531 billion (HK$4.16 trillion). And the US is Mexico's largest outbound market by far, accounting for an overwhelming 80% of its exports.
With that trading relationship under threat from the current US administration, some of those attending Decoestylo felt that Mexicans should be looking to find new markets. Roberto Martinez, founder of Guadalajara-based furniture business Massivholz, and one of the co-sponsors of the wall installation, said: "For businesses in Mexico, the US is an easy export market. Perhaps because of that we have tended to neglect other opportunities.
"We have to stop putting all our eggs in one basket. Canada is a very big market for us too and we are looking to work together to provide the quality and the design that will succeed there. We have everything we need here in Mexico – creative design, good communications, great raw materials, craftsmanship. We can sell to Europe and to China's middle classes."
Carlos Diez, a representative of fellow Mexican furniture company Taller X, struck a similar note. Listing the factors that should allow Mexico to succeed without relying on the US, Diez said: "Mexico has a lot of potential. We are hard-working, very innovative and have historic skills and craftsmanship, from before the Spanish conquest in the wood, stone and textile sectors. If they shut down the 'Maquiladoras' [tariff-free sewing and assembly plants set up by US companies close to the border to take advantage of lower Mexican labour costs], we can set up our own industry."
Using Mexico's natural resources and craftsmanship to add value and create better products was a theme being emphasised by a number of exhibitors at the show. Tendenze Home/Antigua Casa is a furniture company based in Guadalajara which specialises in high-quality items and accessories. At Decoestylo, it was displaying its domestically made Galilei range of natural wood furniture with a strong regional identity. Outlining its production preferences, a company representative said: "We use parota wood, from the coastal forest in the south of Mexico near Puerto Vallarta. It has great properties – it's resistant to the sun and the water and we use it in its natural form without any colouring."
In addition to solid tables made of single cuts of wood up to 10cm thick, the Galilei range showcased decorative skittles, spheres, paddles, baseball bats, shelves, bottles and other items all made of this light to reddish-brown wood. There was also a new range of animal designs made of parota offcuts bolted onto a metal frame, including rhinoceroses, buffaloes, elephants and hippos as free-standing quadrupeds and wall-mounted heads.
Mexico City business OakPlusWine is another capitalising on local craftsmanship to create high-quality wood furniture products. It uses barrels from a family wine business in Baja California to make tables, cupboards and shelving units. Explaining the rationale behind this unusual approach, founder Tatiana Romero said: "We just started this two months ago. The barrels are used to mature red wine, largely to develop the aroma of the wine. After 10 years, the barrels have reached the end of their useful life and will no longer oxygenate the wine. So I wanted to look at how we could recycle them."
Another company using familiar materials in a new way is Zapopan-based Glassisimo, which produces all-glass furniture. Outlining his business model, Director Hein Wulfert said: "As well as producing individual pieces signed by the artists, we also customise pieces in different colours. On top of that, we add value with finishes in gold, silver and copper.
"Protecting our designs, though, is difficult. Someone can change the colour or slightly alter the shape and it's a new design. The government here should do more to protect manufacturers."
Despite the presence of many Mexican companies displaying their high-end natural wood and signature glass furniture items, the vast majority of furnishings at the show were low-cost imports. Most of the exhibitors offered a range of furnishings, including lighting, cushions, rugs, ceramics, glassware and occasional tables, sourced from across the world.
One of the major importers is Guanajuato-based Running Decora. This year, the company had one of the event's largest stands, fetchingly fronted with a display of LED light trees, eye-catching flower pots, mirrors, angels and glass dolphins.
Among the other furniture-focused businesses in attendance were Corner Home and Garden, another big brand based in Zapopan. The company's stand had a distinctly nautical theme, complete with buoys, starfish, floats and nets providing the background for a range of ornamental glassware, cushions, candlesticks, lamps and containers.
For some, the problem with domestically-produced items is the cost. Explaining her sourcing preferences, Brianda Sanchez, the Sales Manager of Zapopan-based Momalia, a supplier of furniture and interior décor products, said: "All of our furniture comes from Vietnam and Spain. Mexico has a strong furniture industry, but we get better prices in Vietnam than we could get locally."
Visitors to the show this year were generally positive about its organisation and the products available. Xochitl Soto, who has been attending for eight years to source products for her own shop in Pachuca, said: "Visiting this show allows us to bring new products to our customers. We can deal directly with the producer or the supplier and buy large quantities at the best prices."
Another returning visitor, Sandra Gome Luna, said: "I have been buying here for several years. It's very useful for me as an interior designer. This year I'm a certified buyer, which allows me to visit the event for free. It's good to get something extra as a regular visitor. For me, the show is always worth the effort."
Decoestylo 2018 was held from 23-27 July at Mexico City's World Trade Centre.
John Haigh, Special Correspondent, Mexico City