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Ethiopia: a whole new source for manufacturing
Feature: 3/1/2008

Let's be honest: Ethiopia probably Enlarge Image click hereisn't high up on your list of places to go for cost-effective labour. After all, ever since Live Aid brought the realities of the Ethiopian famine to the world's eye, the country has been thought of as poverty-stricken, barren desert.

But that was 22 years ago, and the intervening decades have allowed the country to heal and develop, to the point that - according to Jim Tew of Nottingham, England-based Total Textile and Garment Solutions (TTGS) - the country is now an important new source for textile and garment manufacturing.

"The truth is that economic growth is good," he said. "There is a diversity of climates, plenty of fertile land and the company's garment manufacturing base is growing all the time."

Overcoming preconceptions
Enlarge Image click hereTTGS is a joint venture between Jim and several Ethiopian partners, and is designed to provide a bridge between Ethiopian factories and potential UK and US investors, as well as providing support and development help to Ethiopian companies.

Although it has been running for a year and a half, Jim has more than three years of experience working in and around Ethiopia, something that has made him extremely enthusiastic about the job of changing UK and US public perception about the country.

"Despite what people think, the people of Ethiopia are very educated and have a strong desire to work and improve the status of the country," he said. "They are well-fed, work hard and believe strongly that garment manufacture is the future.

"Currently the country relies heavily on agriculture, but the textile industry is growing fast - in 2005-2006 the total export value was US$11 million, and their plan is to get it to $500 million by 2009. It's a big task, but even if they only get it to $250 million it'll be a huge increase."

A wealth of resources
Meeting those projections will take Enlarge Image click heresome resources, of course, but Jim believes that Ethiopia has most of what it needs.

It grows raw cotton - aided by the Blue Nile, the source of which is in the country - and has its own textile mills. It is also currently developing its dying and finishing factories, as well as looking at various organic alternative fibres, and while there is currently no polyester production, polyester yarn is sourced and spun in the country.

It also has a strong infrastructure, says Jim: the government is stable and is encouraging more privately owned factories to compliment the government-owned factories currently in place. Additionally, Ethiopia is now in its third consecutive year of economic growth.

Logistical advantages
So what about the practicalities of Enlarge Image click heredealing with the country? Jim explained: "Anything produced in Ethiopia is duty-free into the EU and US. Also, to ship from Ethiopia would take just three weeks into the UK and three and a half into the US, compared to six or so from China.

"Also, from the UK it's only a maximum of three hours' time difference, which makes communication easy; it's only two hours' difference in summer and three in winter - and if you have to fly over, it only costs £390-500 to fly to Addis Ababa and back."

Jim also said that Ethiopia separates itself from the competition by offering customer-focused service and by not demanding huge order quantities.

Protecting the people
One of the country's biggest Enlarge Image click hereadvantages is its low labour rate, which comes to around US$40 a month, but Jim is quick to point out that this is not exploitative - although it may not seem like much, such a figure is enough to allow for a comfortable existence.

He added: "People believe that labour is exploited in these countries, but Ethiopia definitely does not do that. In fact, the country is very progressive: nobody can work under the age of 18 and many of the companies have ISO 9000 and 9002.

"Safety is viewed as vital to the workplace and they have health and safety laws as tough as ours; people cannot be employed for excessive hours, they cannot be made to work seven days a week and so on. And the factories always adhere to this - certainly the ones I work with do."

The country is also currently looking at the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP) agency for ethical trading, system monitoring and accreditation.


Available garments
Currently, Ethiopia's factories offer t-shirts, polo shirts, trousers shorts and general workwear such as overalls and work suits.
Enlarge Image click here
Jim is particularly pushing the workwear side, encouraging factories to move more and more into value-added technical products. He said: "countries like Bangladesh already have the basic t-shirt and leisurewear markets sewn up, so they need to move into more complex garments."

He also emphasised the country's other major clothing trade: "Ethiopia has very high quality leather, whether you want goat, lamb or cow. It's suitable for high-fashion gloves, belts and jackets as well as shoes."

The country also has a tradition of hand-woven textiles, with designs being passed down for generations, leaving open huge possibilities for the fashion or niche textile industry - and with the low wage rates, hand-woven, high-fashion garments are a distinct possibility.

Developing contacts
So where should you go if you're Enlarge Image click hereinterested in sourcing from Ethiopia? Jim said: "People can come to me or go to the Ethiopian Embassy; I work with them very closely on promotion, so you may well still be put through to me anyway.

"However, the Embassy works very hard to promote Ethiopia and offers a lot of practical advice. It is heavily invested in developing the country's garment industry and is very knowledgeable about who to see and where to go.

"Otherwise, investors can contact the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Addis Ababa or the Ethiopian Textile and Garment Manufacturing Association."

However, he was adamant that just trying to do the job without outside help would be a bad idea. "It's the same with any country," he said. "If you just go there and try to build everything up yourself then you'll find yourself lost and wasting valuable time.

"However, we have all the right contacts and know who to speak to for the various relevant areas. If you know where to go to, it's possible to get all the permissions and licensing done in a week."

However they approach Ethiopia, however, Jim is quick to encourage at least a preliminary investigation. "I would love people to give it a chance," he said. "It's a wonderful country and there are so many opportunities out there waiting to be snapped up."

Author: James Wilkinson
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