Established local brands, like the iconic Madiba shirt producers Lontana Apparel, have long pioneered locally produced fashion. Dylan Rothschild, Managing Partner at Lontana, says, “We’ve always been a proudly South African manufacturer, and have committed ourselves to empowering our local community and providing much-needed jobs at home.
“During lockdown we shifted our focus to producing masks to meet Covid-19 needs, and worked with over 20 external CMT manufacturers, providing over 1,000 people with work.”
With large local brands now beginning to follow suit, here’s what South Africans can expect for the future of fashion. What can we expect?
For years, South African retailers have relied on fashion imports from Asia, particularly China. But large clothing brands, including Mr Price, The Foschini Group (TFG), Truworths, and Woolworths have recently announced their intentions to manufacture more of their items locally. As Covid-19 and the associated lockdowns have negatively affected the garment manufacturing sector, leading to job losses, factory closures and cancellations of stock, the shift towards local manufacturing has become a necessary step in reviving the local economy.
- Mr Price currently sources 35% of its total merchandise units locally. The clothing brand has committed to reducing its reliance on Chinese imports, which still account for 48.5% of its orders, and refocusing to manufacturing in African countries. Mr Price has also announced that via membership to the South African Cotton Cluster (SACC), it will procure 1,357 tons of cotton from local producers.
- TFG Africa, which used to import around 80% of its products from Asia, currently sources 35% of clothing locally and has announced a strategic imperative to reduce reliance on suppliers like China.
- Truworths also has plans to move towards more locally produced fashion and announced their intention to increase local textile purchases to 50% in the coming years.
- Woolworths has also committed to sourcing more fashion locally, and currently purchases over 50% from the SADC region.
- Other well-known local brands are also committing to locally sourced fashion. Pick n Pay clothing will be embarking on collaborations with South African designers and local production, and Pep Clothing plans to expand, offering more jobs to local workers and producing disposable PPE items to aid in Covid-19 efforts.
“There are many benefits associated with producing fashion locally. Local fashion promotes community enrichment, feeds into the local ‘eco-system’, and promotes environmental sustainability,” says Dylan.
Local manufacturing allows fashion to retailers to respond quickly when it comes to trends and weather changes. Whereas previously it may have taken months for imported clothing to reach South African shores, locally made items can be manufactured and on shelves within weeks, while they’re most relevant. This shorter lead time could equal greater profit for clothing brands, as they’re better able to deliver what customers want, when they want it.
Local manufacturing also insulates the South African market against global disruptions, such as the pandemic and ongoing trade wars between major exporting countries. This, as well as an increase in jobs in local communities, could provide a much-needed boost to the local economy. Challenges
“With the benefits of local production come some challenges. We’ve weathered and successfully overcome various difficulties as a proudly South African manufacturer, but it definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted,” says Dylan.
South African manufacturers face many challenges, not least of them the rising cost of electricity and an often-unreliable power source. As a nation, South Africa is are also faced with uncertainty regarding the unstable Rand, as well as an ageing skilled work force. When it comes to fashion, specifically, South Africa struggles to produce certain fabrics locally, still relying on imports, especially for winter garments. What do these changes mean for brands that have always manufactured locally?
“Cheap imports from abroad have long been flooding our South Africa market. They are often low-quality items, which promote ‘fast fashion’, leading to environmental disasters such as overflowing landfills and the use of environmentally damaging fossil fuels for transport,” explains Dylan.
As well as being detrimental to the environment, these imports have posed as competition to quality local brands, who have had to compete with disposable, low-priced items – especially in South Africa where the clothing market is characterised by a demand for variety.
With brands set to increase local manufacturing, established local brands should see a greater equalisation in pricing and quality. The local, ethical production of clothing, free from exploitation and sweatshops, means pricing should come more into line with established local brands.
A greater interest in local manufacturing and production could also lead to new opportunities for local textile factories and brands, as large brands looking to go local search out established, tested, quality manufacturers to include in their stores.
“We welcome the increase in local clothing manufacturing, and hope to see more communities flourish as a result. Lontana remains committed to producing quality local apparel with South Africans in mind, and we look forward to more manufacturers doing the same,” concludes Dylan.