OPINION: Choose local fashion, it’s lekker

By Eustace Mashimbye Time of article published Jun 19, 2018

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JOHANNESBURG -  Last week Proudly South African hosted its third sector specific business forum of the year, putting the spotlight this time on the clothing, textile, footwear and leather (CTFL) industry. The sector has been referred to as a sunset industry, shedding more than 120 000 jobs in recent years.

Today, it is fighting back and thanks to the introduction of government incentives, and competitiveness raising measures, it now contributes 8percent to our manufacturing gross domestic product  (GDP) and 2.9percent to the country’s overall GDP, employing around 120 000 people, with this figure rising to more than 200 000 if you include those working in retail.

We learnt a lot from our presenters, including from Rob Stewart of B&M Analysts, a company that was commissioned by the dti to do extensive research into the industry. 

Today, a master plan to counter the challenges it faces is being presented in a session led by the dti aimed at soliciting public commitments to the draft plan from the various value chain stakeholders in this sector, and we look forward to seeing even further rejuvenation as a result of the new strategies to be announced today. 

What we did learn from the Forum is that following a career in fashion is for the passionate, but not for the faint-hearted. 

Our so called Big Five retailers – Edcon, Woolworths, TFG, Mr Price Group and Truworths account for 60percent of all sales of clothing, textile, footwear and leather goods in the country. 

Some procure more locally than others – Edgars is on around 60percent local content and Mr Price Group 34percent, so this leaves the smaller chains and independent stores to pick up stock from our local designers and manufacturers, many of whom were represented at our Forum. Whilst they don’t lack any creative inspiration, they came to the Forum looking for some business inspiration and ideas as to how they can break into the mass market. To be fair, many don’t want to go that route, but for others it is their only hope for a sustainable business. 

One of our most charismatic entrepreneur members, Sibusiso Ngwenya of Skinny Sbu Socks, now has his range in Markham after nine months of intense negotiations. He spoke at the Forum about his journey and the mistakes he has made along the way, but his persistence was a salutary lesson for those that were feeling discouraged.

Localisation by retailers is not always an easy proposition. Many of the skilled jobs that are needed through the value chain of getting a piece of clothing from the designer to the shop rail including dyers, cutters, turners and machinists have been lost along the way and buyers encounter bottle necks in supply and delivery. 

To address these issues, some of our retailers are doing amazing work to capacitate their suppliers, investing in manufacturing plants themselves. 

Buyers from Edcon and Mr Price Group both spoke at the Forum, and we learned that they have a collaboration at the Celrose manufacturing plant in KZN, where they have invested in infrastructure and training. Unlike the clothing and textile industries in countries such as India and Turkey, South Africa’s workforce in this sector is predominantly female, making job protection even more critical. 

Both these companies are also involved in the revival of South Africa’s cotton growing industry, which in 2012 hit an all-time production low of 5 000 tonnes. Today, it is back up to an impressive 40 000 tonnes. Mr Price Group’s stock is 60percent cotton based so it serves their interests to have a local, quality source of raw material. Interestingly, along with the other skills we mentioned that are lacking, there is a huge gap in the job market for spinners, so if you’re looking for a great opportunity, you heard it here.

B&M presented some startling figures around the barriers to growing the CTFL sector and surprisingly, South African  wages are not one of them, in fact local wages in this sector are lower than many other countries. 

Nor are our import tariffs so low that we are left unprotected from foreign goods (B&M Analysts’ research shows that our import levels, however, are so high as to account for the loss of 110 000 local jobs, and the creation of some 160 000 jobs overseas, so that would suggest importing is simply something we are choosing to do).

Turkey, which is a CTFL manufacturing centre, employs five times more people in the sector than SA and isn’t nearly as protected as we are, and they have higher wages than us, but they have worked out ways of creating domestic market non-trade barriers to assist in safeguarding their industries. 

With some creative, out of the box thinking, they have been successful in maintaining employment levels.

So whilst Turkey is putting terms and conditions on new investors looking to import into their country, we have no such legislation that imposes local content levels, for example on new entrants into the market. 

This has allowed the likes of Cotton On, H&M and Zara to operate without penalty with 100percent foreign imported stock.

Unpacking all the issues around localisation in the CTFL sector in forums such as ours has started to reap rewards and H&M has announced its intention to start sourcing locally.

But something that came out of the forum is that whilst it is one thing for retailers to localise, they may question their decision if consumers don’t take the hint and buy local. 

Edcon’s presentation closed with a slide that spoke of their unique journey in this sector, and posed the question, not where to next for them, but asked us all ‘Where will you take it next?’ 

If we all buy local, this industry can support thousands of new jobs. The challenge is on.

As Ricky Rick echoes in his song “Sidlukotini” which, loosely translated, means “we dress well,” South Africans love their fashion and love looking good, and we should use this to contribute to the growth of the economy by getting this sector to realise its true potential. 

So, choose local fashion next time you endeavour “udl’ukotini”, because in doing so you effectively help sustain and create much-needed jobs throughout the entire CTFL value chain.  

Eustace Mashimbye, the chief executive of Proudly South African.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.


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