Etienne Vlok said the clothing sector's overall national numbers dropped from 210 000 to about 100 000 between 2002 and 2010. File photo: Zanele Zulu

Cape Town - The local clothing retailers’ lack of support of the South African clothing industry by stocking mainly imported goods has led to factory closures and thousands of job losses.

This is the view of Etienne Vlok, the director of South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union’s South African Labour Research Institute (Salri).

He was responding to a release from the union following the latest employment statistics from Stats SA, which showed that employment levels in the clothing, textile, footwear and leather (CTFL) sectors had increased slightly.

The data was based on the latest Quarterly Employment Survey (QES) for the March 2015 quarter, which was published this week. It showed there had been a year-to-year increase of 1.5 percent in the number of employees across the CTFL industry from March last year to March this year.

There has also been a 1.5 percent increase in the number of employees from December last year to March this year (quarter-to-quarter).

The total number of employees in the sector increased from 87 386 to 88 657, year-to-year and a quarter-to-quarter increase of 87 319 to 88 657, both showing an increase of 1.5 percent.

Vlok said the clothing sector’s overall national numbers dropped from 210 000 to about 100 000 between 2002 and 2010.

He said because Stats SA does not record provincial but only national figures, he estimated that numbers in the clothing sector of the Western Cape dropped by a similar total over that period, from about 80 000 to about 30 000 currently.

“It was caused by a flood of very cheap imports, both legal and illegal, mainly from China. Three-quarters of clothing imports came from China.”

He said during that period China grew as a major clothing supplying country which led to a flood of imports when the rand was stronger but now with the rand’s value having weakened, it makes it very expensive to import.

“It means products manufactured locally are able to compete better with imported products. In 2 000 the situation was the reverse, it was cheaper to import which contributed to he jobs bloodbath in the clothing sector. It is against this backdrop that we look at the numbers from the Stats SA survey which show a small increase.”

Vlok added that the industry has been stabilising recently and the numbers in the survey show further confirmation that the industry is stabilising.

“Importantly now, we want to see the industry growing which is a major challenge,” Vlok said.

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Cape Argus