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Jackie Devoto , CEO of the Limit clothing store , has been working since she was 17 years old. He first did it in his father's company, an importer of toys, then in his mother's, which he leads today.
In the company he began designing , participated in openings and was part of the brand unification plan. Today, with seven established establishments of his own, he assures that the growth will grow with franchises in the interior of the country in the hands of the Svet studio .
He detaches himself from fast fashion with a proposal of his own designs based on a fashion that "lasts several years" and says that this allows him to get away with the arrival of global giants in the field . He confesses that the pandemic had a greater impact on his collection design process than on sales, which were leveraged on online commerce.
He was born in Montevideo, he is 56 years old, he studied architecture, graphic design and has a master's degree in design in Barcelona. She is married with two children, enjoys playing tennis and hopes, at some point, to return to painting.
Below is the interview she had with El Empresario.
Her mother created the company in 1975 with several brands. How did it evolve until it was all unified under the Limit brand? My mother opened the first store in 1975 in Galería Central and had eight stores in different galleries around 18 de Julio . All with different names that they sold with their respective brands. The clothes were designed and made 100% in Uruguay. In 1987, we opened our first store in a shopping mall (Montevideo) with the Privee brand. Then, in 1994, it was the turn of the Punta Carretas shopping mall, but with the Limit brand, and then in Portones with Privee. Until in 2000 we unified all the stores under the same brand and we opted for Limit.
Why did you choose that brand? Because while the sales of the other brands were going well, Limit's were exploding. At that time we had, in addition to the malls, a house on 18 de Julio and Río Branco and another on Galería Yaguarón . I think that, since she was new and was born in Punta Carretas , a new public was able to gain loyalty because of the point where she was located. In fact, for years, that Punta Carretas store, which was small, about 30 square meters, was the one that sold the most per square meter of the mall. Then we moved on to a bigger one. Today we are 39 people and we have seven stores: in the shopping centers of Punta Carretas and Portones , Ciudad Vieja, 18 de Julio and Río Branco, 18 de Julio and Yí, 18 de Julio and Tristán Narvaja, and on 26 de Marzo and Cavia . We closed the one in Montevideo Shopping and two that we had in Punta del Este, one on Calle 20 and the other in the mall. The latter, because they are in a different market and due to the type of public we had to advance collections and this implied double work. But, in addition, it is where I vacation and it happened to me that I ended up working. We also sell wholesale to 22 multi-brand stores in the interior of the country.
How did you get into the company? In the mid-1980s. I've been working since I was 17, first at my father's toy import company and then at my mother's. I stayed for a few years, I liked fashion and in 1988 I went to Barcelona to study a Master's degree in Design. Then I went back to the company. From 1995 I took over the business.
How was the business behaving until the pandemic? It grew every year between 15% and 20% per year, with Punta Carretas as our main location. When the pandemic arrived, the one that suffered the most was Ciudad Vieja, because everything closed there. Now it is the only place that has a hard time retaking the previous levels. In total, in 2020 we closed two months, but the final number was not bad. This is due in part to the fact that sales picked up and we reduced expenses to a minimum, making operations much more efficient. In addition, during those two months, web sales were worked on a lot. We were running all day so that the experience was unique, that everything arrived on time. I wore clothes, I went to the stores where they were, because we don't have an overstock in the offices.
How much did the online channel weigh before and how much now? Before, it was no more than 10% of sales, today it doubled and it is already one more store. But what our website or networks are most used for is so that clients can see the garments and then end up buying in a physical store because our public likes to try on, get advice, touch the fabric.
They designed and produced everything in Uruguay, does that continue? The designs are unique, that is ours, nobody is going to have something equal to a Limit design . Then I go to China to close the purchase of the fabrics and the final production. I have been traveling twice a year for more than 10 years, for a month each time, because there I define from the fabrics, the workshop and corroborate the final garments with the samples in the place. With some workshops I already have a relationship of years. However, I never stopped making in Uruguay. The part of thick fabrics, jeans and dresses, we make them with the same workshop for 30 years. Today 15% of our proposal of 400 models is made entirely here.
Why did they stop producing in Uruguay? We decided to reconvert because in Uruguay we were left with no option, the workshops began to close. At first, we ran out of fabric and started importing from Italy, but then there were problems with that country. Then we began to bring fabrics from China but the two large workshops with which we worked, which also exported, closed when they stopped selling abroad. So we had no choice but to manufacture in China. For a while we imported from India as well, in conjunction with another company.
You mentioned that you traveled twice a year for production, how did the pandemic impact this process? Now everything is done from here and it's extra work, because in this area you have to see, touch the canvas, it's not the same on video. What we do now is send all the designs and then we connect via Wechat so that they can show us the fabrics by video. For example, last week I was online for two nights from 11:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., because they went to a fabric market and workshops to show me off and it was at that time. After I choose the fabrics, they send me all the samples by DHL. We choose here and we inform you. Then they make the samples and send them out. Added to this is that, due to the pandemic, shipments that used to take 4 or 5 days went to 10 or 15 days, and there are also fewer ships. In total, this process that used to take a month now takes two or more and this has an impact on planning. For example, I started planning for the next winter in September or October. Now, I'm already planning next year's winter while I'm making summer; overlap, there is no break. I hope to travel again because, besides, being there you see all the fabric options, maybe they only show you part of it through video. Not to mention that all this has more costs than traveling by plane in business class and staying in the best hotel.
Today Limit has seven stores, are there plans to grow? Yes, but not with their own premises, but with franchises and in the interior of the country. The Svet studio contacted us because they had interested parties and we decided it was time to leave, because we have a strong brand. We already have an almost closed franchise in Trinidad (Flores) and others in negotiations. Each one has a total approximate cost of US$45,000 (fee included) which implies a turnkey opening with the collections, the software, how each place is fitted out, etc. The idea is to end 2022 with three, because we want it to be gradual, see how it works and take care of stocks. For example, for the 2022 winter collection, all three franchises are already included. We want it to work like any other store, for the experience to be the same, that's why we want few and controlled stores.
It is defined as a brand made by women for women. Are you planning to add a line for men? I love menswear, but it doesn't give us the capacity because we design a lot for our public, we don't have room to dedicate the same quality to it. I would need a separate company and learn everything from scratch, because in women we already know what the body is like, the sizes, the scales, etc.
How have they taken the arrival of big fashion brands in Uruguay? Whenever they arrive they are frightening; something similar happened when the Argentine brands came, but in the end nothing happened, almost all of them have already withdrawn. Now, although there was concern at the beginning, it did not affect either, because our public is different, it is not the one of "use and throw away", something to which we do not stick but rather we aim at the most lasting fashion. That's another audience. And it is not an issue of age, because the age range of our clients is very varied, it is a woman who wants to dress well, be comfortable, fashionable and versatile, regardless of age. In addition, we are committed to quality and the shopping experience in our stores, which are like a home where clients are advised and feel at home. It is where you can compete with the big brands. We also make almost exclusive garments. In fact, some clients ask us to repeat from other seasons and we say no. There are few exceptions: we make them in other fabrics, other colors, but the rule is no. We don't even make more of successful garments. Likewise, competition is healthy, it motivates you to improve yourself, it's good that we all do well.
The fashion industry is listed as one of the industries that has the greatest impact on the environment. How do you approach this issue? Our sale is not fast fashion, we take great care of the quality, the design, the quantity of garments that we make. Our garments last several years in the closets of the clients, they are used longer and are not thrown away and discarded from one year to the next. It happens to me to go down the street and see clothes that are up to six years old and are perfect. That is why we design a versatile fashion, which allows to be fashionable but timeless to be used more than one season. We take into account previous collections so that the new ones can be combined. We say that when someone buys a garment, they should be able to combine it with at least three others they have. There is nothing worse than buying something that is not combinable, it is the worst money spent on fashion. In addition, we have measured how much we sell so as not to 'overstock'. That's why we don't have an outlet, because generally we don't have too many clothes. They are mini-collections and we renew part of the stores every 15 days.