Calling for the rescue of the dying garment industry in Bulawayo
Nqobile Bhebhe, Senior Economic Reporter
PROMINENT Bulawayo businessman Mr. Mohamed Esat has passionately called on the government and banking sector to invest significant capital in the garment and textile manufacturing sector.
This will help create more jobs, reduce imports and salvage the few existing clothing retail stores that face stiff competition from cheap imports and second-hand clothes, he said.
In the absence of a viable garment manufacturing sector, the country’s cotton-to-garment value chain remains crippled, Mr Esat said, and the sustainability of the few players, including retailers, is increasingly threatened.
The garment and textile sector used to be a big employer in Bulawayo.
In recent years, however, many of the large companies that formed the backbone of the city’s industry have either closed, been liquidated, or placed under court direction.
In order to stay in business, the few operators are mainly importing goods for resale with limited domestic value added, a development that is draining much-needed foreign currency, Mr Esat said in an interview.
Therefore, an injection of cash into the apparel industry is needed, which will boost overall economic activity.
“Capital is needed to revitalize the garment sector in Bulawayo.
If people are screened and given money to run small factories, it would go a long way in getting the sector up and running,” said Mr Esat, who runs a diversified business model.
“In Bulawayo, almost all the clothing factories are empty, they have been idle for too long.
But all hope is not lost as a company we are seeing signs of recovery.”
Esats Clothing mainly deals in school clothes, kitchen utensils, linen, women’s hairstyles and luggage accessories, among other things.
With most garment factories closed, the businessman said, they are now forced to import much of their stock.
“We used to have 80 percent of our stock produced locally, but now that has changed to the point that 80 percent is imported and only 20 percent is produced locally,” he said.
“The foreign currency we spend on import should be spent here.
Imports do not benefit the economy and our people as they take away jobs.
“I would say most African countries are consumers rather than producers.
Until we get to the right manufacturing sector, only the inventory ratio would change.”
Calling for a financial package targeting the clothing sector, Mr Esat said without a full value chain, some clothing stores could close.
“What could happen is big stores close and it would be a luxury to run them.
Most of the buildings are now being converted into small outlets as they are much cheaper to run,” he said.
“Their expenses and operating models are lower.
We hope that the government will listen to us and support us by offering financial support to people in the garment industry.
We have the infrastructure that can be used.”
Bulawayo has been declared a Special Economic Zone for Leather and Textiles (SEZ), a move Mr Esat said should be implemented immediately as it would give an additional boost to the city’s industrial revitalization.
The apparel and textile sector in Bulawayo has huge growth potential by tapping into multiple opportunities arising from the special economic zones, he added.
Recently, the retail outlet invested approximately $250,000 in setting up its new mini-shopping complex, which will house at least seven other stores.
The entire project is designed to create more space for the local community to do business, he added.