New push to revive SA textile industry

Cape Town – In a new push to revive the local textile industry hard hit by cheap Chinese imports in the late 1990s, Sactwu will this week host the 2016 Clothing, Textile and Leather (CTFL) Imbizo.

The SA clothing and textile workers' union said despite significant investment and government support in recent years, the industry is struggling to move from survivalist to expansionist mode.

The Imbizo, which will be held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) on Tuesday, will bring together leading industry thinkers to consider and plan how they can maximise and grow the industry's export footprint.

Sactwu researcher Simon Eppel told Fin24 that while CTFL jobs dwindled from about 210 000 formal sector jobs in the 2000s to 90 000 currently, it is still one of the largest sectors in manufacturing.

"Government needs to answer issues of incentives, cheaper industrial loans, and steps to deal with customs fraud, including reference prices and increased monitoring, designation for (government) procurement of CTFL goods, etc," said Eppel.

The Imbizo discussion will include case studies from successful exporters (both inside the industry and in the broader economy), inputs from government export agencies, market information from researchers and export tips from potential customers. It will also examine how to overcome challenges to exporting and the support measures that exist to do so.

A textile employee hard at work. (Photo: Supplied)

Herman Pillay, CEO of TCI Apparel, who will be part of a panel discussion on interventions to make exports successful, told Fin24 South Africa lacks resources to make exports work.

He said he realised that for the industry to be able to export or even consider exports, they first need to fix the supply chain that was "decimated by cheap Chinese imports".

Most of the resources in the supply chain such as laundry services and dye houses, which were there in the past, have been lost since the early 2000s. "The whole value chain has been broken."

Pillay said there is a huge benefit to international customers now because of the currency exchange and the stronger dollar.

He said TCI Apparel Group acquired a stake in The Star Knitwear Group, based in Mauritius, last October, to bridge the gap in the export industry.

"The Star Knitwear Group is a complete vertical operation, from fabric development to fabric knitting, fabric dying, fabric printing and also manufacturing," he said.

The group is one of the largest knitwear suppliers to top international brands like Top Shop and River Island in the United Kingdom. "And this give us access to an international customer base, overseas trends and their trading strategies."

He said his group often gets asked why South Africa? "Well they have a 25% currency gain and we can give them speed to market."

"The problem in South Africa is if you don't fix the supply chain and you don't have incentives to do exports, we will never be competitive enough to do it.

"If we want to be competitive the government needs to firstly lift the duty on imported fabric and logistically find a solution to get garments to the international market faster, such as preferential rates on air cargo," Pillay said.

Eppel said the Imbizo is not a jobs programme, but merely a platform for companies to facilitate a dialogue about the export industry.

"We hope that it will end up in some companies starting to export and so create jobs and build local industry", said Eppel.

ALSO READ: Clothing workers rally to face challenges head on

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