It has been a year since South Africa went into a hard lockdown to manage the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the healthcare sector and society. While we knew this turn of events would change our economy, forever, none of us had an idea of the extent.

“After the past 12 months, which featured annual GDP contractions of 7% and sky-rocketing unemployment levels, this year will be another challenging one,” says Denver Berman-Jacob, executive director of Sweet-Orr. “However, there are glimmers of hope. South Africa’s manufacturing activity in January has, for instance, risen to a four-month high, pushing up overall business optimism levels.”

He adds that this has instilled confidence in the governmental drive to help our country meet the demand for certain products by producing them locally instead of importing them. “All social partners that participated in the development of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, as part of our social compact, have agreed to work together to reduce our reliance on imports by 20% over the next five years,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in this year’s State of the Nation Address.

President Ramaphosa added that at least 42 products could be sourced locally instead of being imported. These range from edible oils, furniture and fruit concentrate to personal protective equipment, steel products, fabrics, and clothing.

“In my opinion, feeding our economy from within is the single most powerful solution to getting our country back on track and people into jobs,” says Berman-Jacob. “The textile sector can play a fast-tracking role in this, for the simple reason that every single one of us needs affordable and quality clothes – all the time.

Denver Berman-Jacob, executive director of Sweet-Orr, believes that feeding our economy from within is the single most powerful solution to getting South Africa back on track.

“A critical problem in a price-sensitive country like ours, where 50% of people live on or below the bread line, is that locally manufactured clothing tends to be more expensive than items made in China or India. This is not because South African companies are greedy. The key culprit is global economics.”

Like many other countries worldwide, South Africa is being submerged in a tsunami of fast fashion and cheap garments from the far East, produced at a much faster pace at lower prices by cheaper labour with inexpensive raw materials.

“This has made it extremely difficult for local clothing companies to compete, with many manufacturing at a break-even point or even a loss.

“The global competition is so stiff that even a 22% tariff on imported fabrics has not helped prevent South African textile mill closures,” Berman-Jacob points out. “To improve competitiveness of the local industry, government, retailers and manufacturers have worked on shaping the new Retail, Clothing, Textile, Footwear and Leather Master Plan, which was announced last year. The goals of this strategy include growing local resourcing in retail from 30% to more than 60% over the next 10 years, and creating 120 000 jobs across the value chain by 2030.”

In other words, it seems that with government and stakeholder commitment, South Africa’s once-thriving local clothing and textile industry is set for a turnaround with the potential of seeing our people employed and kickstarting the economy. “At Sweet-Orr, we can’t wait to roll up our (locally made) sleeves and play our part.”

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