10 Top Sourcing Destinations In Africa For Apparel Companies

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Ethiopia has been aggressively seeking foreign direct investment in garment and leather manufacturing. Global brands from H&M and Wrangler to Lee, Calvin Klein, and Timberland all have a presence in Ethiopia, Mail&Guardian reported.

Ethiopia and Kenya both were identified as top sourcing destinations by apparel companies, according to McKinsey & Co., which surveyed global executives responsible for procuring $70 billion of goods annually.

Within sub-Saharan Africa, East African countries—especially Ethiopia and Kenya, and to a lesser extent Uganda and Tanzania—are of interest to apparel buyers. The governments of both Ethiopia and Kenya are taking steps to develop their domestic textile and garment industries, McKinsey reported.

It was the first time an African country was mentioned in the report alongside Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar, Mail&Guardian reported.

Since 2013, there has been rising interest in not just Ethiopia but also other East African countries as potential sourcing destinations for apparel, McKinsey reported. Also contributing to the buzz is the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa duty-free access to U.S. markets.

Apparel and footwear — but especially footwear — are among the U.S. industries that have benefited most from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, according to an earlier AFKInsider report.

Survey respondents were asked: Do you expect to start or increase sourcing from these countries between now and 2020?

African countries were ranked according to the strength of the responses to that question as follows: Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Lesotho, Madagasar, Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Egypt, South Africa, and Swaziland.

But if you think it is only global brands looking to set up shop in an Ethiopian factory, you’d be wrong.

Ethiopia, where factories have the capacity to produce 1,500 pairs of shoes a day, is attracting other Africans.

Kenyan footwear designer Emo Rugene is moving manufacturing operations to Ethiopia. He founded the shoe brand Afroshoes, and has been doing African-inspired shoe designs mostly made of Ankara fabric since 2012, Mail&Guardian reported.

Rugene’s inspiration comes from three cities – Berlin, Germany, where he lives part-time; Nairobi, Kenya, his hometown; and Addis Ababa, the production hub.

“I chose Ethiopia because there, they can do the entire leather shoe manufacturing process – from tanning, cutting, stitching; everything,” Rugene told Mail & Guardian Africa.

Rugene, 28, says he flew to Addis Ababa with a contact number for one person and no real plan.

“I asked around, and figured out where the shoe manufacturing factories were. After visiting two or three factories, I found one that I could work with, “ he told Mail & Guardian Africa.

By some estimates, Ethiopia has the largest livestock herd in Africa, with an estimated 49 million cattle, 25 million sheep, and 21 million goats. The cpountry’s dominance in the leather industry and footwear manufacturing has roots in traditional Ethiopian culture and economy. Leather is readily available.

Livestock accounts for up to 17 percent of total gross domestic product and up to 49 percent of agricultural GDP.

To start production, Rugene needs more funding so he’s doing a Kickstarter campaign that will go live mid-April, hoping to raise $34,200.

Some garment and footwear projects from Africa have been successful on Kickstarter, Mail&Guardian reported.