THE KwaZulu-Natal clothing and textile industry is running at capacity as updated production methods kick in and the R3 billion in government incentives distributed since 2010 takes hold.
Shaun Gannon, executive at B&M Analysts and co-ordinator of the KZN Clothing and Textile Cluster, said improved production since 2010 was putting the industry on to a trajectory which could open up employment for 150 000250 000 people by the year 2022.
About 94 000 people are formally employed in the sector at present.
B& M Analysts is a global firm with its head office in Durban. It promotes industrial development through international industry benchmarking and research and assists member companies to improve competitiveness. The company represents 200 firms in different industry clusters nationally, of which about 80 belong to clothing and textile clusters in the Cape and KZN.
Nationally, the industry shed 160 000 jobs between 2006 and 2013 as businesses struggled to compete with international markets after the lifting of sanctions and lowering of import duties in the post-apartheid era.
The collapse of the world’s financial markets in 2008 also played its role.
With KZN and the Western Cape being the hardest hit, KZN employment figures in the sector are now showing a recovery with an increase from 20 818 to 23 269 since 2010.
Gannon attributed the improved employment growth to government financing for capital and production improvements in factories, the weak rand and the introduction of Quick Response and Lean Manufacturing Models in about 30 companies in the province.
He said the Department of Trade and Industry’s Clothing and Textile Competitiveness Programme was a catalyst in the recovery of the sector.
Further, according to Gannon, significant benefits were filtering down to smaller businesses as major retailers were turning to local manufacturers to keep abreast of international trends in real time.
“Yes, we had a large industry pre-1994,” Gannon said. “But it was protected by import duties, was inflexible and was heavily reliant on local retail customers.”
He said learning from the Quick Response Model used mainly in Turkey meant designers, retailers, textile mills and clothing manufacturers were now working more closely together to achieve a 42-day lead time from concept to shop to meet consumer demand.
“Quick response requires more upfront decision-making regarding base fabrics, patterns, colours and prints. Within a season unlimited variety can be created around these according to customer demand.”
Gannon added: “Quick Response is shifting the clothing and production activities which add most value back to South Africa. This includes dyeing, printing and finishing (or fabric conversion).
“They significantly increase the opportunity for in-season flexibility. Currently, most of our fabrics are imported from the East, but yes, there is also definitely place for more weaving and knitting in the country.”
Gannon added that textile mills operating in the province were also running at capacity.
He said the arrival of international chain stores such as Zara, Cotton On and Topshop meant domestic retailers were under massive pressure to respond more quickly to market demand.
“Retailers – particularly in the last year – are seeing the benefit of supporting local suppliers,” he said.
Competition is also high from places like Mauritius and Madagascar. Lesotho is another threat as many firms have moved their production to that country to benefit from lower wage rates since 2006.
Preggy Naidu, who runs his company Shiva Clothing in Port Shepstone, said another 150 jobs had been added to his operation in the past year, bringing total employment to 300.
The company has also expanded its 1 250m 2 factory space by 750m2 since 2014.
Naidu, who supplies baby clothing and underwear to the Edcon Group, said he was having to turn away work.
“We are putting out 400 000 units a month. Our order book is overflowing. The biggest challenges now are getting raw materials and skilled labour,” he said.
Brenton Pooley, the managing director of Dyefin Textiles, said the company had taken advantage of the government’s incentives and had installed about R30 million in new machinery since 2011.
He said meeting the demand of international markets, particularly the EU, was a top priority as exports were also on the increase.
The company, whose major shareholder is Ninian & Lester, moved its whole operation to the Heartland Industrial Complex south of Durban to benefit from cleaner operational infrastructure.
“We have a world class effluent treatment plant here. We run on Sasol gas, which is much cleaner than coal, and nothing goes to waste.”
Employing 245 people, Dyefin is dyeing 340 tons of fabric a month and printing 320 000m of fabric a month.
Phumelele Deyi is one of 10 people in a line of machinists at Shiva Clothing in Port Shepstone. Pictured left is Thokozani Khanyile, the laboratory technician at Dyefin Textiles in south Durban.