Juan Juan Almeida, 12 May 2016 — The most expensive labels in Cuba are on the verge of the abyss. Mango, Gas, Zara, Paul & Shark, Adidas, Lacoste, Desigual and a few others present their calling cards to the Cuban government while naïve foreign businessmen in the high-end textile industry look on, allowing themselves to be seduced. The stores pretend to be profitable but it is all an illusion. They are nothing more than a houses of cards, fragile and in danger of collapse.
Commercial concessions like these are doled out on the basis of their usefulness through politically connected friends and with people who, directly or indirectly, wield authority, hold decision making power or have influence.
One very recent example happens to be talk of the town: Patricia Nuñez, an anchor on the educational channel and the current fiancée of Antonio Castro Soto del Valle, son of Fidel Castro. She recently made her debut as manager of a new Desigual store in the shopping mall of the Hotel Comodoro in Miramar.
Fashion is the new obsession among Cuba’s elite. But not even close ties to Cuba’s monarchs are enough to improve the bottom line of these luxury clothing brands. Having a presence in Cuba can certainly be an added plus, albeit a costly one. Economically speaking, the thrill of being on the island mainly results in huge and continuous losses.
The government’s unpaid bills are piling up in the accounting books of these retail companies. But that is not the main reason these stores are suffering. It is due to their employees who — with a work ethic that includes criminality (specifically, handling stolen goods) — make steady money tax-free while dealing a body blow to their own employers.
Another issue is that, generally speaking, what is being sold in stores like those in the Hotel Comodoro are knock-offs imported by merchants who circumvent Cuban custom regulations, or who sell merchandise produced clandestinely by seamstresses — with or without self-employment licenses — who attach fake labels made by local artisans.
These include blouses, skirts, shirts, leggings and pants. Anything that can be purchased for a price of between five to seven convertible pesos is sold as “the real thing” at one-hundred times the original price. As a result, the legitimate stores lose while these shopkeepers win.
It is for this reason that Cuba’s well-to-do have not been seduced into buying this stuff. They have no interest in the Hotel Comodoro shopping mall.
What interests them are places like New York’s Fifth Avenue, London’s Bond Street, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Tverskaya Street in Moscow, Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich, Wangfujing in Beijing, Avenue Montaigne in Paris, Via Monte Napoleone in Milán, P.C Hooftstraat in Amsterdam and Madrid’s Serrano Street.
Why? Because for them, as well as for those who talk so much about sacrifice and revolution, the shopping experience at these places far exceeds the average earthling’s retail expectations, whether they live inside or outside of Cuba.