IT is the desire of any nation to establish a flourishing industrialised economy that would comprise a viable apparel and fashion sector.
A country’s textile industry doesn’t just clothe its citizens but serves other societal needs, such as their lifestyles, value systems and the identity of its people.
In the absence of a viable local textile industry, a nation’s social needs may become subservient to the cultural values exhibited by the manufacturers of originating countries.
The 28 April, 2017 incident in which the Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) issued a ban on the importation of secondhand underwear in Zambia, exemplifies this point.
I’m sure every old timer; indigenous Zambian will concur with me that unless in extreme instances, it’s uncommon in our traditional setting to wear used underwear.
ZABS disclosed that importation and selling of used underclothing is a risk to the health of users and is prohibited in Zambia through the Zambian Standard, ZS 559.
The Bureau further noted that according to medical experts, second hand undergarments attract moisture which could cause fungal infections and skin conditions in the reproductive organs.
Could you imagine that without giving it a second thought, hospital linen, ladies and gent’s panties were being sold to the public for over 20 years?
This partly goes to underscore the increasing need of having an indigenous and flourishing local apparel and fashion industry.
The purpose of this article and the next two in the series, is to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the textile industry in the light of the unfolding international scenarios.
Thankfully, I interacted with Private Sector Development Association charperson, Yusuf Dodia, to understand the opportunities and challenges facing the sector in Zambia.
Imagine, the global apparel and fashion industry commands a market value of more than $3.3 trillion, and US$1.75 trillion respectively, making it justifiable for Zambia to attract private sector investment in this sector.
Additionally, the apparel industry accounts for an estimated two per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In the last one year, there have been remarkable developments in the apparel and fashion industries globally including Asia, Europe, United States (US), and east Africa.
Such events include the setting up of the Hawassa Industrial park US$250 million, 1.4 million square metre facility by TAL Apparel, a Hong Kong-based global garment manufacturer and the feud between the United States (US) and East African countries (EAC) over second hand goods trade.
This facility has the capacity to create around 60,000 jobs, and is possibly one of the largest textile facilities in Africa.
Ethiopia’s success seems to be putting its neighbours’ economic ambitions under pressure!
Essentially, the EAC, of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda are a key market for the US industry’s secondhand clothing exports which were estimated at $24 million in 2016, while exports under African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) were estimated to be $281 million.
I’m sure you understand that secondhand clothes trade is not synonymous with a thriving textile industry in the importing country and that’s exactly the contention of Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame.
Media reports reveal that the EAC decided to ban imported secondhand clothes from the US, in preference for growing their own industry.
I’m sure you can see the interrelationship between what is happening in east Africa and Zambia’s industrialisation agenda.
Is it possible to attract private sector globally renowned firms to our local industry?
Yes, it is!
As we shall see later, TAL Apparel, built one of the largest textile facilities in Africa, in Ethiopia in a record period of nine months!
In the last six years, Ethiopia has supplied textiles to the US and Europe amounting to 40 and 50 per cent respectively and the total export in 2015 was S$73 million.
Overtime, this has made globally renowned retailers like H&M, Primark and several others to source their clothing resources from Ethiopia.
At this point, it’s important to consider why, out of all the investment destinations in the world that TAL Apparel could dare to invest in Ethiopia.
Is it something that we can learn from?
The long-term global trend of manufacturing in low cost china and other Asian countries is changing tides.
Manufacturing costs in terms of wage bills in Ethiopia are considerably lower, with wage bills being only a fifth of China’s and half of Vietnam’s wage levels!
That’s interesting! Indeed it is.
TAL apparel is focusing a revenue target of US$30 billion by 2025 from the country’s current textile export of US$73.25 in 2015.
Additionally, Ethiopia has a population growth of 2.3 million annually and active labour-force of 45 million with a GDP of 10 to 11 per cent for the past 12 years.
This makes Ethiopia one of the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s amazing that Ethiopia is the second largest electricity producer in sub-Saharan Africa with a cost of US$0.03 per Kwh, which makes it one of the lowest electricity cost rates in the world.
The country focuses on producing electricity from hydro, wind and geothermal sources.
Hong Kong-based Epic Group chairperson and chief executive officer, Ranjan Mahtani says:
“The one thing unique in Ethiopia is that there’s never been such an organised roadmap dedicated to apparel and textile, not in any country in the world.”
That’s really a combination of enabling factors that have been developed over a decade.
Indeed, Ethiopia’s TAL Apparel case study shows that it’s possible for Zambia to attract a private sector driven and flourishing apparel and fashion industry, which would immensely contribute to the country’s social and economic development.
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