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Africa starts to lure garment makers from Asia

Adam Allington Jul 14, 2015
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The continent of Africa has historically struggled to grow its manufacturing base. That appears to be starting to change in the textile and garment industries. As the Wall Street Journal notes, Africa is now being viewed by some companies as a low-cost competitor to countries like China, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

According to the International Labor Organization, garment industry wages in Ethiopia run about $21 a month. That’s compared to $67 in Bangladesh and much higher in China.

Steve Lamar is with the American Apparel and Footwear Association. He says countries like Ethiopia and Kenya have been successful to integrating industries up and down the textile supply chain.

“The ability to transform from fiber through yarn and into fabric and garment,” Lamar says, “that will become an additional magnet for more sourcing from Africa.”

Another driver of the growth in the African textile industry are rising costs in Asia.

“You know, costs in China, which is the world’s largest apparel manufacturer by far, have been going up,” says Kimberly Elliot, a senior fellow with the Center for Global Development. “Wages in particular have been going up for several years now.”

China and Vietnam still account for over 50 percent of all U.S. clothing imports, and Elliot doesn’t expect that to change any time soon. “This shift is still pretty small, the numbers are still pretty small relative to the global textile and apparel market.”

Labor aside, Elliot notes that other costs, such as electricity, water and transportation, can be quite high in Africa.

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