Bethlehem Getachew, in her mid-thirties, is a regular buyer of traditional Ethiopian clothes. She buys clothes for herself and her siblings who live abroad.
She is a fan of locally made traditional dresses made from cotton calledShemma, woven fabrics produced in long strips and sewn together. A dress made in this fashion used to cost her 9,000 Br. Just like many other Ethiopians, Bethlehem prefers to wear Habesha kemis, the long snow white and embroidered national outfit, usually worn with an accompanying shawl calledNetela.
As she has done many times before, she went to Shiro Meda, the largest marketplace for traditional Ethiopian dresses, last month to buy dresses for her nieces.
Unlike the previous days, she did not go looking for dresses made from Shemma. Rather, she was looking for garments made from imported chiffon – a light, transparent fabric typically made of silk or nylon. The dresses she bought are imitation dresses of traditional Ethiopian clothing.
Bethlehem paid 2,700 Br for three small sized dresses. “Previously, I pay this amount (2,700) for a single dress, made from Shemma,” she told Fortune.
Chiffon clothes have flooded major marketplaces for traditional garments including Shiro Meda, Cherkos, Kirkos District and around the Ambassador Theatre in Addis Abeba.
Carrying cheaper prices ranging between 400-600 Br, these chiffon imitations are the major reason that buyers like Bethlehem have switched away from traditional dresses made from Shemma.
It is a concern and a threat to major stakeholders including small-scale weavers, designers, tailors and retailers that depend on this trade.
Amongst the fastest growing industries is that of the fashion industry, especially in Addis Abeba. Together with this trend, fashion talent incubators are multiplying in number to offer hopeful designers the basics of the field. The industry’s insiders, on the other hand, point out that just because there has been a change in quantity, quality still remains to be tackled, reports YARED TSEGAYE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER. Read more >>
Checkered shirts for American chain Gap. Slate leggings for Swedish store H&M. Twill shorts for Germany’s Tchibo. They are among a growing list of clothes being stitched together for big brands in Ethiopia.
As labor, raw material and tax costs rise in China – the world’s dominant textiles producer – the Horn of Africa country is scrambling to offer a cheaper alternative, and go up against established low-cost garment makers like Bangladesh and Vietnam.
It is still early days, and most of the clothing companies to source production in Ethiopia are testing the waters with small volumes. But the government is working hard to attract their business with tax breaks, subsidies and cheap loans. The landlocked nation is also about to open the final stretch of a 700 km (450-mile) electric railway to Djibouti’s coast.
This is part of a drive to turn a nation that is among the poorest in Africa into a manufacturing center that is no longer held hostage to fickle weather patterns which periodically devastate the agrarian economy and leave its people hungry.
There has been some progress; foreign investment in the textile industry has risen from 4.5 billion birr ($166.5 million) in 2013/14 to 36.8 billion in 2016/17, the Ethiopian Investment Commission, a government agency, told Reuters.
“This is a huge success,” Arkebe Oqubay, a prime ministerial adviser directing the industrialization drive, said during the inauguration of an industry park in the northern Ethiopian town of Kombolcha this summer. “The challenge now is to bring the world’s biggest companies into the country.”
Some have already arrived, most of them sourcing some production locally, like Gap and H&M, but a few building factories themselves.
Those to set up factories this year include U.S. fashion giant PVH, whose brands include Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger; Dubai-based Velocity Apparelz Companies, which supplies Levi‘s, Zara and Under Armour; and China‘s Jiangsu Sunshine Group, whose customers include Giorgio Armani and Hugo Boss.
French retailer Decathlon and over 150 companies from China and India will begin sourcing production from Ethiopia soon, said the investment commission.
However, while Ethiopia is moving faster than its continental rivals, there is a long road ahead. Logistical, bureaucratic and cotton-quality problems are threatening its ambitions and there are no guarantees it will ever be able to compete with the big global players.
The gulf in textiles exports is huge; Ethiopia’s totalled about $115 million in 2015, against Vietnam’s $27 billion, Bangladesh’s $28 billion and China’s $273 billion, according to the World Bank’s latest figures.
Ethiopia’s fledgling sector can ill afford the kind of working conditions scandals that have dogged the low-cost garment industry elsewhere, and officials said they were sending representatives to Asia to learn best practices.
Ethiopia is showcasing its prowess in textile and garment industry at the ongoing Africa’s main trade show for cotton, textile, apparel, home and technology industries.
The African Sourcing and Fashion Week, which will last toward Friday, has gathered some 230 international producers and exporters from 25 countries, the organizers Trade and Fairs East Africa and Messe Frankfurt indicated Tuesday.
Among the variety of products showcased at the trade show include apparel fabrics, leather goods, fashion and fashionable accessories. Home and household textile providers are also among exhibitors as part of the event.
According to the organizers, the exhibitors are drawn from countries such as Turkey, the United Arabic Emirates, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Italy, Germany and the host nation Ethiopia.
The 4-day event, as part of its opening day program, evaluated Ethiopia’s Hawassa industrial park, in which panelists indicated the industrial zone as a “model of sustainability” in Africa’s textile and garment industry sector. Digital sourcing was also major discussion topic during the event as a new sourcing opportunity for the African continent and beyond.