"The garment industry in Jordan is mainly focused on cutting and making, with not much contribution in design"

"The garment industry in Jordan is mainly focused on cutting and making, with not much contribution in design"

Jordanian garment manufacturers and supporting institutions like the International Labour Organization's Better Work Jordan initiative plan to introduce garment design training to add value to a sector that is primarily 'cut and sew.'

Jordan exported US$1.8bn worth of garments last year, just over half to the US, at US$1.02bn, but designs are primarily provided by buyers and retailers, with minimal design in-country. 

"The garment industry in Jordan is mainly focused on cutting and making, with not much contribution in design," says Tareq Abu Qaoud, programme manager at Better Work Jordan, an ILO initiative started in 2009 to improve working conditions in Jordan's apparel sector.

While the sector employs some 65,000 people, 75% are migrant workers from South Asia, mainly from Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, with just 25% of the workforce being Jordanians, according to ILO figures. Despite unemployment at 19.2% of the 9.5m population, Jordanians have not been willing to work in the sector due to low wages, while Jordanian women's economic participation is one of the lowest in the world, according to the ILO.

International agencies and the government are trying to encourage up-skilling in the sector, so that Jordanians are keener to take jobs in the industry, with Better Work Jordan having been tasked by stakeholders to develop a national sector strategy.

"The strategy is focused on business, diversifying the market, and upgrading skills in the sector. It will capitalise on Jordanians' skills, such as developing 3D printing and more technology adoption," Abu Qaoud says.

New initiatives

While there are design centres, such as the Design Institute Amman, and design courses at the Luminus Technical University College, also in Amman, design services have mainly been geared to smaller manufacturers catering to the local market. 

However, domestic clothing sales fell by 60% in 2018, attributable to high taxes and a spike in online shopping, according to the Textile and Readymade Clothes Syndicate, while there are few designers working with export-orientated manufacturers.

"There are not that many graduates from Luminus or the design centres working in the sector," explains Abu Qaoud. Currently just one Jordanian manufacturer is providing local designs to American retailers, although the main design teams are in Turkey and New York, he adds.

The Jordan Garments, Accessories and Textiles Exporters' Association (JGATE) is also keen on bolstering domestic design. "The design centre is not helping the sector, which is why we're looking for new programmes," says Farhan Ifram, CEO of Mas Holdings and chairman of JGATE.

The association is in discussions with the Dutch and Danish governments to provide support to upgrade its capabilities to better represent SMEs, which could also include design. 

"If you look at Southeast Asian garment manufacturing hubs, many have graduate fashion institutes, and enter the sector, but Jordan doesn't have that. Designers are needed for small and medium sized companies to expand," Ifram adds.

Last year the government replaced a past education training and vocational fund with a Sector Skill Council system, which will focus on specific sectors, including apparel manufacturing, through establishing a new training institute.

"Everyone wants to have more value added to penetrate different markets, with Jordan having potential through free trade agreements with the European Union, Canada and the US," notes Abu Qaoud.

While exports are forecast to grow 10% this year, primarily on the back of the US-China trade war, according to Ifram, Jordan will still need significant support and upskilling to incorporate locally-produced design into international markets.

Trade benefits

The United States is Jordan's biggest export market for garments thanks to the United States-Jordan Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. While Jordan's garment exports to the European Union (EU) are much smaller (US$41.6m in 2017, according to the re:source by just-style strategic sourcing tool), volumes are expected to increase due to the simplified rules of origin agreement, which was signed between Jordan and the EU in 2016 and is valid until 2030.

The EU-Jordan Association Agreement provides most Jordanian products, including textiles, apparel and footwear, with duty-free access to the EU market as long as the garments were cut and sewn in Jordan and the factory making them employs at least 15% Syrian refugees. These relaxed rules of origin were expanded in December 2018 to apply to all factories across Jordan instead of just the 18 development and industrial zones. This is expected to further increase exports and drive investments in Jordan.

Earlier this year industry experts told just-style that garment exporters in Jordan may be growing their exports, but high costs could weaken their ability to take advantage of robust overseas demand.