Inject synergy in textiles sector to create jobs

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022 01:25 | By

This might surprise you, but Kenya is one of the global suppliers of big fashion brands in America.  In fact, Kenya is  the largest exporter of garments under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) programme. We pride ourselves on manufacturing for big names such as H&M, Levi’s, JC Penny, Wrangler and Otto, among others.

This demonstrates that local industries can produce high-quality products for local and international markets. Our textile and apparel sector plays a crucial role in the economy due to three main reasons. First is the fact that access to clothes is a basic need, second is the strong linkage between manufacturing and agriculture in the farm-to-fashion value chain, and third is the ability of the sector to create gainful mass employment in a short period.

Despite the local sector making a mark in the global space through our apparel exports, accounting for approximately Sh51 billion, our imports remain high. In 2021, Kenya imported textiles and apparel products, including fibres, yarns, fabric and ready-made apparel, worth about Sh85 billion. Furthermore, we imported second-hand clothes worth 19 billion in the same year. This calls for the urgent need to reinvigorate the sector. By doing so, we will provide citizens and export markets with high-quality, affordable, ready-made garments from locally produced raw materials whilst creating employment on the value chain. Additionally, the high involvement of MSMEs in the sector provides a golden opportunity to infuse creativity and diversity in our fashion in addition to agility to drive fashion trends. A deliberate structure to grow and develop SMEs would be a sure bet to drive this.

Local industry is committed to increasing the manufacturing sector contribution to GDP from the current 7.2pc to 20pc by 2030 in its manufacturing 20 by 30 plan. To implement this plan, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the Ministry of Trade, Investments and Industry kicked off sector deep dives to get insights on the opportunities that manufacturing value chains provide and how best to plug into each.

An analysis of the local textiles and apparel sector paints a gloomy picture, which calls for urgent intervention - primarily to close the gaps to run an efficient farm-to-fashion value chain.

 Linkages between the textiles and apparel sector with other sectors can create a huge economic ripple effect to create a wow factor in the economy. Kenya is now a net importer of cotton, but enormous opportunities to create over 200,000 direct jobs in cotton farming exist. Production of other fibres such as silk and wool presents numerous opportunities to tap into the premium markets with the fibre-to-fashion sector, leading to more benefits to the local economy.

In terms of yarn and fabric supply, the utilisation capacity of spinning mills stands at 39pc, supplying barely 7pc of the yarn and fabric market demand. We have an opportunity to increase the output of the mills and yarn produced, which can be supplied to textile mills and over 300 MSMEs engaged in knitwear. 

Furthermore, by bridging this gap, the country will fill the 93pc fabric demand that is currently supplemented through imports.  In comparison to the Sh252 trillion global market, Kenya’s apparel exports are just a drop of water in the ocean, at about Sh51 billion. Herein lies an opportunity to join the biggest garment exporters, such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, and China, which have enhanced their capacity to supply global markets. Kenya can borrow best practices from Bangladesh, a giant exporter of textiles and apparel.

Kenya prides itself on having a sustainable sector compared to other manufacturing hubs globally. As out shoring from the east happens, Kenya needs to position itself with the right policy environment and supportive infrastructure to house the next global textiles and apparel manufacturing hub.

—The writer is the Chief Executive of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and can be reached at [email protected]

More on Opinion