JOHANNESBURG - An enthusiastic businessman is on a quest to revitalise the battered South African textile industry that has been on its knees because of an influx of cheap Chinese imports.
Sizwe Mbanjwa founded Africa Bespoke Apparel (ABA), a 100 percent black-owned and managed company in Durban in KwaZulu-Natal to buck the trend.
The 42-year-old chief executive says ABA, which boasts state-of-the-art machines and employs 500 workers, supply its products to retailers such as Pep Stores and Mr Price, among others.
He describes the factory as among the largest in the country, manufacturing apparels such as bespoke fashion clothing, corporate and work, uniform and combat, and safety apparel.
Mbanjwa, who holds an MBA from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is responsible for ABA’s finances, says he established the company with Justin Govender (operations director), Mlungisi Ntombela (marketing logistics) and Dean Dunn (marketing new product development).
Mbanjwa says the industry remains vulnerable despite receiving funding and grant aid amounting to R3.5 billion.
He is however unhappy about companies that supply the South African market with goods manufactured elsewhere.
“They set up in Lesotho and Swaziland and pay a quarter of what we pay to manufacture inside the country,” he says.
“It then becomes very difficult to compete because they have low production costs than us and on top of that we have to comply with bargaining councils and stuff like that.”
Mbanjwa says the government must exercise tighter border control and improve its customs service.
“The sector is now starting to recover. What we need to do now is to build more capacity.” Mbanjwa says the industry employs more people and gives opportunities to new entrants to make their mark.
Its survival, he says, will depend on the kind of support it gets from the government.
The married father of three from Ballito says ABA wants to increase its employees from 500 to 700.
“Our employees are 85 percent women and 80 percent youth. It tells you who is mostly affected by unemployment.”
He says ABA is currently negotiating with dti, the KZN Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Department, and the Dube Trade Port.
“We are looking at setting up a textile hub at the Dube Trade Port that will employ between 8000 and 10 000 people when fully developed.”
Mbanjwa says ABA see itself as being one of the biggest employers in the sector.
But ultimately, he says the company wants to export across the African continent and overseas.
“Because of the trade tensions between the US and China some US retailers sourcing from China are looking for alternative destinations to source from.” He says there has been some expressed interest from the US retailers and stressed that should they come to fruition, ABA would use the African Growth and Opportunity Act as a conduit to do business with them.
Looking back, Mbanjwa says ABA is happy with the progress it has made at this point.
“It’s nothing to celebrate about because there is still more that needs to be done,” he stresses.
He says the sector, which he describes as fragile, is important and should be given all the necessary support by stakeholders, because it could help break the cycle of poverty.
“We need this kind of sector as it also helps people without a formal education to not be left out of economic activities.”