Textile factories pick the pieces after Covid-19 tsunami

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Textile factories remain hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic after their customers cancelled millions of maloti worth of orders when the lockdowns started last year and still remain cautious about placing new ones.

This is according to a study commissioned by the private Sector Foundation of Lesotho. The foundation’s objectives include the promotion of the long-term development of the private sector in Lesotho and the promotion of sustained dialogue between the government and the private sector.

The findings of the study were released on Tuesday this week. “Ms. Khotsofalang Molieleng and Ms. Qothoase Khofane were leading researchers in the study,” the Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho said in a statement.

“A snowball sampling technique was used to select 93 respondents from local tailoring businesses and five respondents from foreign firms, where primary data was collected using a questionnaire and interviews,” it added.

The foundation said tailoring business was considered a starter sector in the road to industrialisation “as it creates employment and poverty reduction opportunities within the economy”. However, it added, this sector was affected by multiple challenges that hindered its growth.

“Covid-19 pandemic is one of the crises that put forth external shocks on the global economy, hence Lesotho has to embrace new partnerships and approaches to reconstruct the textile industry and help it recover from Covid-19,” read the statement.

The Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho statement listed the top 10 challenges faced by the textile industry as lack of customers, high rental costs, expensive fabrics, closed borders, lack of funds, long licensing procedure, no access to credit, default customers, lack of institutional support and lack of coordination.

The foundation also made a list of recommendations.

Among others, it recommended for the establishment of Textile and Apparel Association (TAA) with structures both at the national and district levels to deal with all matters relating to the textile and apparel sector.

“The TTA must ensure that all members involved in the textile and apparel sector are fully licensed by the One Stop Business Facilitation Centre (OBFC). Based on that, the financiers will have trust and confidence to provide financial resources,” it said.

It said the textile and apparel association would be in a position to fully engage the Government of Lesotho through Public Private Dialogue (PPD) platform in order to present the concerns of its membership.

It also recommended that the government with the assistance of development partners through Aid for Trade should craft the policies and special programmes to ensure that the textile and apparel sector thrives.

It further recommended that government must equip the Business Development Services (BDS) in order to provide training, mentorship, technical and managerial assistance, accounting and marketing for members of TTA.

“Business linkages between corporates and MSMEs should be institutionalised by an Act of Parliament to ensure that MSMEs tap skills and knowledge from corporates,” it said.

The foundation also recommended that the government should make use of The Third Industrial Development Decade in Africa (IDDA 3) in order to uplift the textile and apparel sector.

It recommends “Establish(ment of) partnerships with brands and weaving mills to foster more vertical integration for companies. These partnerships shall unlock higher added-value within Lesotho as well as a strong return on investment” and development of “sustainable textiles and apparel production capabilities.”

It also recommended the introduction of financial schemes which will enable the tailors to invest on technology which would shape the textile and apparel sector by reducing lead time, while improving quality.

Lesotho’s ready-to-wear apparel industry reportedly started in the ’90s when Taiwanese and Chinese clothing companies were attracted by the country’s geographical proximity to the roads and ports of South Africa and favourable trading arrangements offered by the government.

In 2017, it was reported that the combined, textile, apparel and footwear manufacturing industry remains Lesotho’s largest formal private sector employer – employing around 46 500 workers.

Lesotho’s textile industry, according to British news and media website the Guardian.com, specialises in denim.

More than 26 million pairs of jeans were made here every year before the pandemic, many of them for Levi Strauss & Co, an American clothing company known worldwide, and this has become the fuel that keeps the Lesotho’s faltering economy running.

The factories in Lesotho supply some of the most famous denim brands in the world. The Taiwanese company Nien Hsing, is a major supplier to Levi’s, Wrangler and the United States retailer, The Children’s Place.

Covid-19 has hit the garment industry hard.

Without fashion shoppers in the United States buying as much, and needing to reduce costs to keep their businesses healthy and shareholders happy, fashion companies canceled orders and have remained cautious about placing new ones.

“This challenge (of lack of customers) was addressed by both local and foreign firms, and the challenge arose after the pandemic (Covid-19), showing how negatively it had affected textile industry,” Private Sector Foundation said in its statement.

“The respondents stated that they were dependent on international markets for sales while some were tailors who obtained material from South Africa. Border gates were closed as a response to alleviate Covid-19 by Government of Lesotho. Therefore, the Covid-19 has affected textile industry in Lesotho,” it added.

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