Opinion / 30 September 2019, 11:54am / Charleen Duncan
As has become customary at the opening of Parliament, those present had been dressed to impress by local designers. During his address, President Cyril Ramaphosa proudly announced that his splendid suit was 100% locally sourced, ready to wear and made in a factory 4km away.
With this simple act, he signalled his government’s intent to revive a part of the manufacturing sector that has been devastated by the effects of trade liberalisation and international competition.
South Africa’s once-mighty clothing and textile industry employed around 200000 people in 1987, mostly in the then Cape and Natal. Yet by 2006, dozens of factories had closed, the worker force had almost halved and local manufacturers were floundering in a market flooded with cheap Asian imports.
In the Western Cape, the shedding of jobs began to diminish around 2010 and some companies were even able to regain profitability - thanks to a combination of fortuitous factors such as government support for investing in and modernising production technology, the majority of the major retailers being based in the province and, importantly, the fact that local businesses were represented through the entire value chain.
Around this time, the consensus reached by major stakeholders - business owners, trade unions and government trade and industry agencies - was that the revival of the sector would depend on stimulating and growing the local market.
As confirmed by Ramaphosa: “We will stimulate local demand and grow South African manufacturing by making sure the ‘Buy Local’ campaign is everywhere and ever-present. We call on all South Africans to deliberately and consistently buy locally-made goods.”
But it means much more than simply buying a garment bearing a “Made in South Africa” label, which may have been made in South Africa entirely from imported textiles.
An effective “buy local” strategy that stimulates the clothing and textile industry to the extent that it creates thousands of sustainable new jobs, generates foreign revenue through competitive exports and recruits the patronage of loyal local consumers must be founded on a holistic, comprehensive and innovative approach that requires:
Local suppliers competitively providing alternatives to importing components at every stage of the value chain;
Local retail chains having local suppliers who can handle the desired volumes of product.
Existing suppliers who are able to invest in machinery, skills training and best practices in production.
Capital being unlocked to invest in new production facilities. This includes banks and the government increasing their appetite for risk and regulators reducing red tape and other barriers to entry in the sector.
However, to maximise impact, “buy local” must also mean investing philosophically and aesthetically in design, entrepreneurship and consistent quality until a point is reached where the consumer prefers buying South African fashion.
This is the notion that inspired the SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union’s “Wear SA” campaign. “Wear SA” is a partnership between a range of industry organisations and Cape Town universities.
The campaign will soon launch an incubator store at UWC’s Faculty of Community and Health Sciences building in the Bellville CBD. Staffed by 18 students, the store will provide experiential training in all facets of the industry, including garment design, manufacturing, buying, retail and marketing.
The campaign will also support a six-week bootcamp to develop student entrepreneurial and event management skills, culminating in the “A Wear SA Fashion Show” on campus that will showcase local designers’ collaboration with students. In 2018, the funds generated from the popular fashion show supported student bursaries.
This year, the show will fund the “Rise against Hunger” campaign, which provides meals to students, many of whom depend on bursaries to cover all their daily needs.
The incubator store has huge potential as a pilot for how industries and institutions of higher learning can collaborate to foster economic growth. The programme underscores the value of universities, the government and business working with the youth to realise the goals of the National Development Plan.
As Ramaphosa said in his State of the Nation address, the youth “are brimming with ideas, they are at the forefront of innovation, and they want to do things for themselves”.
* Duncan is director of UWC’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.