The International Finance Corporation (IFC) suggests that the most significant opportunity for growth in Eswatini’s textile and apparel sector lies in transitioning from providing largely cut-make-and-trim (CMT) services to a “full package” offering as that is what large international clothing brands are looking for in their manufacturers.

By Avite Mbabazi

A report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) called Creating Markets in Eswatini postulates that the Eswatini textile and apparel sector could become increasingly competitive by transitioning from the cut-make-and-trim (CMT) model to offering full package production which encompasses other parts of the supply chain such as design, fabric development, yarn, and fabric vertical integration.

CMT manufacturing uses specifications, fabrics, patterns, and stitching requirements sourced from a client to cut, make and trim designs into fully produced products. CMT services mostly rely on semi-skilled labor.

The IFC notes that currently in Eswatini, textile and apparel manufacturing firms largely source inputs from East Asia (and some from Mauritius and South Africa), provide CMT services, and then export to South Africa and the United States. With yarn and fabric reportedly representing about half of the costs in textile and apparel manufacturing, there are availability and affordability challenges posed when obtaining these inputs from abroad.

Eswatini’s competitiveness in textile and apparel manufacturing, according to the IFC, could be enhanced by gradually moving towards full package production that incorporates other parts of the supply chain including design, product development, and fabric vertical integration. This movement would fall in line with the global textile and apparel supply chain shifts which have been leaning towards full package and speed to market since 2005.

This shift is apparent in large US brands such as Puma and PVH (owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein) which are looking for full-package offerings over CMT. These global brands demand speed to market which, given that textile and apparel firms in Eswatini source their fabrics from East Asia, could be difficult to achieve.

With full package production, Eswatini could offer more than simple labor to textile and apparel firms and perhaps more importantly reduce the country’s dependency on imported manufacturing inputs which are vulnerable to supply chain disruptions as demonstrated recently by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2019, Eswatini’s textile and apparel imports amounted to just over E62 Million from China and E36 Million from South Africa, while 98.9% of exports headed to South Africa compared to 0.24% that went to the United States of America.

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