African fabrics and African-inspired designs are without doubt some of the most sought-after fashion items in the world today. Their high quality, authenticity and rarity make them extremely precious.
However, the same cannot be said of the overall textile industry in Africa. Many textile companies on the continent have collapsed and others forced to diversify their operations due to high cost of production and low profits.
But this is set to change with the establishment of the biggest textile industrial plant in Africa. The plant, which will be set up in Kano State, Nigeria, is a joint venture between the government of Kano state and a Chinese company Shandong Ruyi Technology Group.
The entire project is estimated to cost $600 million, which the Chinese company has promised to shell out.
Once complete, the plant is expected to address the problem of unemployment in the country by employing at least 5,000 people. With the current slump in oil prices, many Nigerians, especially the youth, have been rendered jobless.
An alternative source of employment like the garment factory will therefore serve as a relief to thousands of jobless youth in the country.
But the new factory is not for Nigerians only; it is expected to serve the entire African continent, producing high quality garments for the African Market. It will also provide a ready market for African farmers growing cotton, sisal, and other raw materials.
Over the last decade, when new trade rules negotiated at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2005 came into effect, the African textile industry has suffered major setbacks, including the removal of the old system and the loss of over 250,000 jobs.
The rules also allowed market forces to take over the clothing sector by phasing out the quota system in industrial countries, which had provided a steady market for clothes and fabrics from Africa.
With few cloth manufacturers in Africa, the price of locally-made clothes has become unbearable for most Africans, forcing them to go for imported apparels, most of which are hand-me-downs.
Waking the Sleeping Giant
Recently, members of the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF) met in South Africa to discuss the future of the textile industry in Africa. At the end of the meeting, they unanimously agreed to push African governments, trade unions, and investors to find a solution to the current crisis in the sector.
Economists are also confident that with the right attitude and policies in place, the African garment industry can be a force to be reckoned with across the world, especially because the continent enjoys a massive pool of raw materials.
It is therefore upon African leaders, investors and other stakeholders to modernize the African textile industry and make it more competitive. For this continent to be able to compete with the rest of the world, it has to pull all its resources together.