Saturate; Full on in Porto

By Jo Phillips

When the European recession crisis hit in 2008, Portugal was one of the countries worst affected.  By 2011, a €78 billion bail-out was put in place in order to stabilise the public purse, yet the country’s financial and social problems continued. Unemployment was high and so, with the lack of the average person’s income, economic growth kept the economy stagnant. Yet in the face of such dire circumstances, the country’s fabric and garment manufacturing industry became a real symbol of not just optimism but success. Prior to the crisis, textile manufacturing in Portugal had fallen sharply, with major job losses reducing output. The trend began to reverse, and, by 2011, it was not just back but it was the best year in more than a decade, continuing to grow year by year. The city of Porto has 19th-century roots in spinning, weaving and the production of linen, therefore the industry benefited from a long industrial tradition in garment manufacture, and now once again, it is charging forth with fresh creative and technological impetus.

Modtissimo 2018, em Maia, no Aeroporto Francisco Sá Carneiro, Porto

Portugal’s fashion production it still small in comparison to, say, Italy, France, or Germany, but it has benefited in a strange way from the crisis by taking a hard look and finding different ways to move forward. Ultimately what happens in recessions like this is those who look to ‘disrupt’ the past ways will move forward, survive, and grow a new structure for new times. Much of the fashion sector’s growth is centred around Porto, one of the nation’s manufacturing hubs. Rather than travelling to far-flung production sites in places such as India or China, designers, fabric manufacturing and production are all relatively local for not just their own fashion designs but for those based across Europe.

For example, over many years, the designer end of the British Fashion industry suffered because of problems with production. Unless backed by one of the major power brands, getting their luxury production done in places like Italy and France was extremely difficult. A designer would show their collection, either as a catwalk show at London Fashion Week or as a presentation, and after selling their new season, they had to look at their sales and book a production slot. Sadly, seeing as there were next to no factories left in the UK specialising in high-end clothes production, most would look to the European continent marketplace in order to get the clothes made.

As they were all wanting to work in the same factories that produced practically all designer clothes from across the globe, small designers had to fit their very small production runs in-between the ‘big boys’. This meant booking in a ‘slot’ with a high-end factory. The problem was that many of these small young names only wanted to do a run of say, 50 trousers or 75 shirts, but for factories producing a few thousand of say a pair of trousers, their business was not of much interest. Production slots got pushed back and young British designers struggled to get their clothes produced on time to deliver them to store. If the store didn’t get the delivery at a set  pre-arranged time, the store would refuse a late delivery therefore making the designer lose the whole season’s collection and was often putting them out of business.

Modtissimo 2018, em Maia, no Aeroporto Francisco Sá Carneiro, Porto

This may well have been the bad early days of British fashion and although these British designers now have clothes produced all over the world from China to Romania, there continue to be problems. Anyone that has produced goods in far-away countries like China know that, unless you are there to supervise, things can go very wrong; a much closer production facility is the best option, particularly one that has a level of expertise in specialist manufacturing. But, again, the issue of small runs is problematic as well.

Here Portugal enters. Porto production, unlike many of its other European neighbours, accommodates small runs at high quality levels which is the perfect scenario for small brands and young designers. Before the economic crash, this was certainly not an option, but now it certainly is. The area already works with a handful of internationally renowned designers as well as a few British brands.

So, what is the hub for designers to meet producers in Porto? Well, you don’t even need to leave the airport, thanks to the MODTISSIMO fair created in 1992. Showing the exhibition at the airport is made possible by the collaboration of Portugal’s airport authority ANA Aeroportos de Portugal (ANA), of the VINCI Group. It began in Portugal as an exhibition restricted to foreign fabrics, and was organised at the time at the Hotel Solverde in Espinho. From its third edition, the fair moved to Exponor, in Matosinhos, and from there welcomed the participation of Portuguese exhibitors, thus taking its first big step. The 12th edition included manufacturers, and the 20th edition, technical fabrications. The fair set was up by the associations ATP (Portuguese Association of Textiles and Clothing) and ANIL (Portuguese Association of Wool Manufacturers). The Alfândega Building in Porto has been its ‘home’ from the 27th edition until now, interspersed by editions in unexpected places, such as the Hotel Sheraton Porto and Porto Airport. It celebrated its 25th birthday when it took place from the 21st to 22nd February this year.

The show consists of several areas that encompass the industry in Porto. Firstly, a fabrics section that covers many materials which are spun in Porto but whose raw materials come from across the globe. Initially most of the raw materials coming in to Portugal came from former colonies. There are companies specialising alongside weaving in digital printing. On top of this is a section just on technical fabrics iTechtStyle Showcase®  Textile Innovation and Business Platform – a space conceived in partnership with CITEVE – Technological Centre. This already seems to be a successful area with one brand producing technically engineered socks for football teams including several who play in the Premiership, the top UK tier of football.  The selection of technical abilities of the materials on show offered viewers examples of where fabrics were already utilised in specialist garments, not just in sport but also in areas like all weather climates, or denim that moisturises the leg as it is worn.

Next is the production of ‘white label goods’ which makes up a large percentage of what is done in Porto, literally starting from design production to delivery of fast fashion to big internationally renowned global brands.

The option to utilise manufacturing in Porto is already used by brands from within LVMH as well as British brands like Oliver Sweeney  alongside luminaries such as Paul Smith, Karl Lagerfeld and Victoria Beckham.

“Modtissimo is a very interesting fair. Many contacts with new and usual customers, with national and foreign clients, from different origins are interested in the different segments of our offer, from fashion to uniforms including technical fabrics”, says António Teixeira of Penteadora, an exhibitor in the Fabrics and Accessories area. 

João Rafael Koehler, the president of both ANJE (Portugal’s National Association of Young Entrepreneurs) and the fashion week Portugal Fashion, sees this as part of a historical continuum.

“Portugal’s textile and ” he says. “That combination means that the quality price-proximity ratio is hard to beat, not only in Europe, but anywhere in the world”.

The big challenge left is to get highly skilled workers to Porto as specialist skills are in small supply, yet in way of enticement is a wonderful standard of living to be had, lots of sunshine great food , so it is something that the industry are looking to use as way of tempting the talent needed to continue to build the industry on the shore of Porto.

The show happens twice a year find more details here


Often, the go to part of Portugal is the better known city of Lisbon but Porto is equally as lovely and with an easy to use overground metro its a simple city to search around for food and entertainment. Located along the Douro river estuary in Northern Portugal, Porto is one of the oldest European centres, and its historical core was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. It’s a good city,  not just to look at from eye level but look up and see beautifully tiled buildings. Blue-and-white-tiled churches alternate with traditional snack bars that seem to be continually populated with young and old eating Francesinhas (rich cheese and meat toasties) Look out of course for Port in Porto because port wine is named after the city and is one of its most famous exports. (it also comes from the city next door Vila Nova De Gaia)  There is plenty to see and do so why not go for work, stay and play?


  • Baixa Bar- laid back, flexible good for dancing or chatting, mainly rock and pop music
  • Hard Club- located in a former marketplace- classic-meets-modern experience
  • Passos Manuel- in a former theatre. Live music (DJ’s and bands)
  • Labirinto- cultural developments in the interior


  • Galeria Presença – situated along the famously stylish Rua De Miguel Bombarda, a street renowned for its artistic activity. Dedicated to promoting contemporary artists from both Portugal and abroad- holds regular events as well as group/solo exhibitions.
  • Galeria Nuno Centeno: began in numerous different forms, but now resides as a contemporary art gallery -emerging and established artists
  • Gallery Hostel: combines a hotel with an art gallery- The gallery provides bi-monthly exhibitions and other artistic events.
  • Ap’arte Art Gallery – contemporary art gallery – embraces all contemporary art disciplines such as painting, sculpture, photography and new media.


  • Restaurante Cafeina : popular spot with local artists and Porto’s hip young crowd. The Portuguese food here is influenced by Italian and French cuisines- revolves around succulent cuts of meat and fresh fish. The sleek interior is dominated by muted colors, accompanied by a light breeze coming in from the sea when the windows are open in summer.
  • Camafeu :a unique restaurant that resembles a first-floor apartment, with French windows looking out on the bustling Carlos Alberto Square- The dishes here are colorful, inviting and give a real taste of authentic Portuguese home cooking.
  • Pedro Lemos: has established itself as one of the most popular restaurants in Porto with a menu that is firmly and proudly grounded in the traditions of Portuguese cooking. Each dish reflects the country’s rich culinary heritage and explodes with simplicity and taste,
  • Bufete Fase – Its humble exterior and basic décor – all about the food. There is only one choice on the menu: francesinha, essentially a sandwich, but more of a culinary icon here, with rich layers of ham, sausage, cheese, roast meat and other local delicacies. According- to locals, one of the best places in the whole city.


  • Vodafone Headquarters: Designed by the architects Barbosa & Guimarães, the Vodafone building has a total of 7472 square meters of construction (3560 above and 3912 under the ground) on a site area of 1971 square meters. The final cost of the construction was 11.500.000€.
  • Dom Luis I Bridge: Completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, the bridge’s top deck is now reserved for pedestrians, as well as one of the city’s metro lines; the lower deck bears regular traffic, as well as narrow walkways for those on foot. The views of the river and Old Town are simply stunning, as are the daredevils who leap from the lower level.
  • Casa da Musica was designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas alongside the Office for Metropolitan Architecture and renowned engineers Arup, and no sooner was it completed, it became something of a cultural icon in Porto– 12 storeys high
  • Rosa Mota Pavilion:  in honour of the illustrious olympic medalist from Porto. Opened in 1956, it was built to replace the famous Palácio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) which was demolished in 1951. This dome shaped building was the project of architect José Carlos Loureiro. It can be used for various sporting, recreational and cultural events namely, music concerts, theater, circus, congress and expositions among others.


  • LELLO & IRMÃO Bookstore- Gothic details, stunning red staircase, more then a century old noveau pearl
  • La Punta- A menswear concept store with a cafe in one of the most beautiful parts of the city.
  • ALPHAMOMENT – In the Foz District you can take a look around this shop for incredible outfits and designer products.


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