Say bye to imports and hello to local is lekker
Multimillion-rand black-owned textile firm launched in Durban to reverse culture of cheap imports
A concept crafted at a bar over a few beers in 2016, by a few men scribbling notes on a piece of paper and crunching numbers, eventually culminated in the launch of a multimillion-rand black-owned industrialist textile firm in KwaZulu-Natal.
This story was recounted by the CEO of Africa Bespoke Apparel, Sizwe Mbanjwa, at the official launch of the R81m company in Verulam, north of Durban, on Tuesday.
Mbanjwa recalled listening to a radio talk show in which there was a big debate about lack of transformation in the SA corporate sector, and the lack of opportunities for black managers and black entrepreneurs, with people complaining that private entities did not open up space for black managers and executives.
“One white guy phoned and said: ‘You know what, I’m sick and tired of black people complaining. We created these businesses. You’re in government, why don’t you create your own businesses?’ That statement you can judge and say he was arrogant and he was devoid of the context of history. But if you sober up, take lessons out of it and say: ‘What was he saying?’ We need get there and start creating new industries, new businesses, instead of fighting for what is there. I think those are the things that are driving us to pursue this to get to this space,” said Mbanjwa.
Today, Africa Bespoke Apparel employs about 500 people, of whom 85% are women and 80% young people.
The company was officially opened by deputy minister of trade and industry (DTI) Bulelani Magwanishe and KZN economic development, tourism and environmental affairs MEC Sihle Zikalala – thanks to grant funding of R35m from the DTI’s Black Industrial Scheme. It is also funded by the KZN government’s Growth Fund.
The opening of the company in the province is a major boost for the industry after the closure of the textile industry in Hammarsdale between the mid-1990s and 2002.
It is estimated that 40,000 textile industry jobs were lost in what was once considered the textile capital because of cheap Chinese imports.
In November 2018, the provincial government had to intervene to save more than 200 jobs out of 500 which were lost when another KZN textile company, Glodina Black Label in Hammarsdale, shut down owing to cash-flow problems.
Glodina, which produced towels and supplied the hospitality industry and some of SA’s top retailers, ran into financial difficulties, forcing the holding company, Kap Industrial Holdings, to dispose of the company because it was no longer profitable.
It was only after the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) approved a funding package of R150m for an IDC-owned entity to acquire the Glodina assets, that the factory resumed operations.
Magwanishe said Africa Bespoke Apparel would give young people an opportunity to excel in skills development and further affirm that Africa’s industrial growth was on the horizon.
“Africa is an important market for trade in value-added products. Economists predict that in 2019 the apparel market will potentially inject $474m (R6,6bn). Therefore, it certainly is within seasoned time for Africa Bespoke Apparel to leverage on regional and continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development.”
He said that apart from the R34.5m grant approved by DTI, the government would continue to support the company in achieving its objectives.
“The department of trade and industry has further developed a master plan to grow the clothing, textile, footwear and leather retail value chain. The plan, aimed a creating an additional 60,000 jobs in the sector and enhancing competition, will soon be announced,” said Magwanishe.
Zikalala described Africa Bespoke Apparel as the “biggest black-owned and black-managed cut-make-and-trim factory” in the province.
“We know that in the recent past this industry succumbed to severe international pressure, leading to the decimation of the local manufacturing capacity and job losses. We’re pleased to report today that the government [and the] private sector are working together to rebuild our manufacturing capacity in the clothing and textile industry,” he said.
Retailers who have started using the firm include the Foschini Group, Mr Price and the Edcon Group. Zikalala also revealed that the company had also started receiving orders from government departments, including the SAPS.
The factory has a 7,000m² production space and capacity to handle more than 235,000 garments per month.
Company CEO Sizwe Mbanjwa said they had already bought a state-of-the-art laundry which will be commissioned next month and is expected to be up and running by March. This was expected to push staff numbers to 700.
The firm was also engaging with the Durban University of Technology with a view to employing young designers.
“We’re a young business that has just started. Instead of hiring people to get into the lines we have to train them first. They are not productive during that period. But we pay wages during that period. So, because the sector lost so much capacity, when you now bring back capacity, you can’t bring it and isolate it from training. It has to be put together with a strong training programme so that we get qualified people,” Mbanjwa said.
One of the workers, Snenhlanhla Ntuli from the nearby Ndwedwe area, who started working for the company on June 27 2018, said: “I’m so happy for the opportunity that has been created by this firm. Now I am able to support my three boys aged between five and 11.”