Participants at the recent West Africa Roadshow validated the organiser’s vision for the West Africa Region, which comprises the need for a vertically integrated and sustainable industry with capabilities in recycling, renewable energy and traceability of materials.

“The textiles and apparel industry plays an important role in industrialisation,” said organiser the Tony Blair Institute (TBI). “Most countries that have industrialised have started with textiles and apparel before moving to higher value-add sectors. The industry is typically labour-intensive in the apparel segment and technology-intensive in the textiles segment (i.e., the production of fabrics by transforming cotton or producing man-made fibres).

“In a country like Bangladesh, textiles and apparel represents more than US$40bn in exports and employs more than 5 million people. West Africa has all the ingredients to be able to attract investment in the region, especially as the industry is moving out of China (which represents more than 40% of global T&A exports) and the consumer market is continuously growing. Bringing key industry leaders and decision-makers to the region is key for the region to be able to benefit from the current changes in the supply chains and seize this opportunity.”

The roadshow covered regions including Cote d’Ivoire, Togo and Ghana. In these countries, governments have prioritised textiles and apparel for their industrialisation agenda. Moreover, the industry players are not interested in the potential of only one country but rather in the potential that a whole region can offer to develop a vertical and sustainable industry at scale.

Around 23 delegates from six global brands/retailers and six suppliers attended the event, including H&M, Kiabi, Kontoor Brands, The Children’s Place, Under Armour, Li & Fung, and Bill McRaith, ex-supply chain officer of PVH who is working closely with TBI on shaping the textiles and apparel sector in West Africa, and who played the role of the representative of the industry when engaging with the three governments.

Outputs of the event included:

  • Vision for the region: All the participants validated our vision for the industry in the region: the need for a vertically integrated and sustainable industry with capabilities in recycling, renewable energy and traceability of materials. There was also a general agreement that the industry will develop in the next two years and that TBI can continue to play a critical role as a facilitator, honest broker, eco-system builder and promoter of the region.
  • Tangible investment opportunities:  Two suppliers expressed their intention to invest in Cote d’Ivoire with formal conditional offers submitted to the government with an investment portfolio of $311m with a potential to create more than 10,000 jobs. One US brand is “seriously exploring sourcing from Togo” (notably from Star Garment, a Sri Lankan supplier investing in Togo), two brands are looking into sourcing from DTRT – the biggest existing apparel supplier in West Africa – and one supplier is exploring investing in a plant in Ghana. 

TBI says it will now set up a working group to advance on building the ecosystem functions that will enable the West African textiles and apparel industry to scale, including more shipping lines, organic cotton, traceability, and recycling, among other things.

A dedicated event will take place in the first quarter of 2023 on the potential of textiles and apparel regional value chains and the potential for sustainability and circularity, with a potential focus on Ghana for recycling. Ghana is the biggest global importer of second-hand clothing).

McRaith said following the event: “It has been a long time since I had the opportunity to participate in such an inspiring trip as the one arranged by TBI to West Africa. I witnessed Governments, global brands, suppliers and financial institutions come together to discuss the opportunity to stand up vertical manufacturing capability that not only tackles the EU & US post-consumer waste flowing into the region but also start to turn the apparel waste already in landfill, back into new products. This effort has the potential to create the blueprint for how all future supply chains should be built, truly circular, truly regenerative, turning the industry from one of the dirtiest to one of the cleanest, allowing fast fashion to flourish without the negative impact it has today.”