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Africa - Growing Textile Industry has International Implications
Jackie Edwards | 15 December 2017

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Africa has been increasingly recognised as an emerging fashion hub, and this reputation was cemented this month when the African Sourcing and Fashion Week (Africa's main trade show for fashion fabrics and technology) was hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The show drew the attention of an international audience, with 230 international producers and exporters from 25 countries choosing to exhibit their products and showcase their craft at the show. Luxury fabrics (and high-quality leather) proved a focal point for huge numbers of individuals visiting the show.

The textile and garment industry is playing a key role in helping to pull many African nations out of poverty. Ethiopia is a key example of this, and the most recent statistics released by the Ethiopian Ministry of Industry reveal that during the 2016/2017 fiscal year, the nation earned just shy of US$90 million from their rapidly growing textile and garment industry. Working with overseas investors (particularly from China) many newly built industrial parks have developed across the country, and it is these parks that are driving this growth.

A Focus on African Quality

Many African and international designers choose to work with luxury and locally sourced traditional African fabrics, such as high-end cotton and leather. Africa has a reputation for producing high quality fabrics, and this has formed a solid foundation for a growing export market for many African nations.

Ironically, within Africa itself many countries are choosing to import products from further afield rather than trade with each other, which is driving up the cost of their offering. Afreximbank, UNCTAD and the Commonwealth Secretariat collaborated to commission a study on the regional value chains for leather manufacture. Their investigation showed that South Africa was importing tanned leather from India in order to create high fashion garments for double the price at which they could import the same products from Ethiopia. Similarly, Mauritius and Nigeria are paying considerably more to import high end leather products from Italy and Belgium than South Africa and Botswana are paying to import the same product. Clearly, for certain nations, a premium is placed on the cost of importing, producing and owning leather goods.

By communicating with each other and collaborating, many of these African nations could reduce the cost of their imports for leather and other fashion fabrics, whilst simultaneously continuing to target the international export market with the distinctive high-end products they are able to produce.