A new initiative aims to boost Africa as a sourcing location

A new initiative aims to boost Africa as a sourcing location

Cotton, textile and apparel manufacturers in 18 sub-Saharan African countries are backing a new initiative to boost confidence in Africa as a sourcing location and attract new buyers and investors to the region.

The aim is to "promote African cotton and the apparel value chain from farm to fashion," explains Fred Kong'ong'o, programme manager at the Africa Cotton & Textile Industries Federation (ACTIF), the regional trade body that has devised the strategy.

Speaking to just-style today (13 April) he said the goal of the 'Brand Africa - Origin Africa' campaign is to help Africa make its mark in the fashion world by showing buyers the scope of its design, fabrics and factories.

"Previously we've been using fabrics from Asia and designs from Europe or the US, and then we just cut and make.

"But what we are trying to prove is that we can originate design from here, originate fabric from here, and do the fashion work too.

"We hope that in the next one or two years Africa will make its mark in the fashion world."

Local profile
The scheme will start by raising the profile of locally-designed garments, with a fashion show taking place later this month involving designers from Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and cotton and silk fabrics made in East Africa.

This will be followed by a larger event in Mauritius in November that will involve around 20 designers from 18 countries using African fabric in their designs.

Crucially, both events will be attended by buyers from the US and EU, as well as representatives from regional retailers such as Woolworths.

Kong'ong'o believes the region's production is ideally suited to the needs of fast fashion retailers "because it can turn around small quantities very fast."

He also sees scope for niche markets requiring fabrics made from organic cotton grown in areas like northern Uganda and Tanzania.

As well as providing feedback, it is hoped that the buyers will also select designs that will be developed up to the market level using the region's fabric, trim and sourcing network.

"Right now we are focusing on the next one or two years, working with designers to create demand for these designs and African fabrics," Kong'ong'o explains.

The next step will be to convert this interest into a business case for investment in the African textile sector to produce fabric as well as backward links to the farm level.

Lack of local fabrics
A lack of locally produced raw materials and poor infrastructure has long been one of the main challenges faced by Africa's textile industry.

For example, even though Africa produces 12% of the world's cotton, 90% of its production is sold to other countries for processing.
 
This is also the reason why most duty-free exports to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) use third-country - mainly Asian - fabrics, a rule that is set to expire in September 2012.

Unless it's renewed soon, there are fears buyers might begin to losing confidence in Africa as a sourcing location.

Kong'ong'o says that while ACTIF is lobbying to make AGOA a long-term agreement, the 'Brand Africa - Origin Africa' programme would support it by creating a long-term value chain for the region.

"Our aim is to use the competitive advantages in the region to position the industry, because in our view the next stop for the industry is going to be Africa.

"It's now migrating from China to countries like Cambodia, but in the next 10, 20 or even 30 years it will migrate to Africa. And once we get our backward linkages sorted out, the turnaround will be very fast."