Better use of resources and cleaner production techniques provide material for serious thought when lobbying the revival of SA’s clothing, textile, footwear and leather sector

SA’s textile and allied sectors set to adapt

Better use of resources and cleaner production techniques provide material for serious thought when lobbying the revival of SA’s clothing, textile, footwear and leather sector

Operating in an energy resource and carbon-intensive economy, South Africa’s industries are under constant pressure. The pressure is applied both locally and from sustainability-minded export markets, insisting South Africa clean up its act. Should South Africa not adhere to it’s call the markets may take their products elsewhere. On the flip side, consumers are facing the very real challenge of making their money go further, and price becomes an overriding factor in the choice of products bought.

An industry under severe pressure on both fronts is South Africa’s clothing, textiles, footwear and leather sector. Since 1994, about R9.2 billion has been spent on modernising and upgrading the industry, making it efficient and internationally competitive and the local clothing and textile industry has grown accordingly to offer the full range of services from natural and synthetic fibre production to non-wovens, spinning, weaving, tufting, knitting, dyeing and finishing.

Although it is still infantile in the world markets, local success stories do exist. Examples of such success are fabric mill Gelvenor Textiles that produces over half the world’s parachute fabrics, and local yarn producer Sans Fibres delivering 80% of the world’s apparel sewing thread.

Crisis = Opportunity

Since the dawn of the new Millennium the industry has borne the brunt of trade barriers being lifted unleashing a wave of cheaper imported goods drowning local competition in our marketplace, with a notable contender in China.

The climate of risk afflicting the textiles sector did not abate here, with local producers facing a production-critical trilemma of increasing resource limitations, rising labour costs, and unprecedented hikes in water and energy prices since 2008. The global economic meltdown of the same year saw retailers chasing profit margins and shareholder satisfaction by diverting their purchase orders to Far Eastern balance sheets.

This cost the industry due to closures, retrenchments and general downsizing being the order of the day. Of course, the downstream effect of this uncertainty was a general halt in new product innovation otherwise, we would by now surely have enjoyed a boom in UV-resistant textiles to protect us against our intense summer heat. The upside for the textile industry is its forward-thinking and embracing of the challenges posed by increased resource scarcity such as water and energy.

Realising that all industries are competing for their spot in the market sun, the textile industry has been quick to its feet in re-thinking and re-inventing its production techniques focusing on process improvement opportunities.

Support At Hand – Every Step Of The Way

Andre Page, Project Manager focusing on the clothing, textiles, footwear and leather sector at the National Cleaner Production Centre of South Africa (NCPC-SA), has been working hard for the past seven years to accelerate the adoption and implementation of Resource Efficiency and Cleaner Production (RECP) in the sector.

To this end, he connects industry producers with tailored incentive schemes from the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

Having worked in this industry for over 25 years, Andre has a deep appreciation for its needs and challenges. “I firmly believe that the potential for the sector to grow businesses and enhance their competitiveness through adopting resource efficiency is being realised now. Through receptive transitioning, local producers are adopting competitive business practices that enhance their competitive advantage both locally and globally,” says Page.

The NCPC-SA is the resource efficiency programme of the dti. It is helping the key manufacturing industry at large. It assists the industry to improve its energy, water and material use patterns. Assistance is offered in the form of RECP assessments, with a focus on priority sectors identified within the Industrial Policy Action Plan and in support of the objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP).

“These assessments are subsidised by government, and are designed to not only harness improvement in resource utilisation, but also to raise awareness,” says Page. “By building best practices, where cost-to-company is minimal, we encourage businesses to follow through to implementation.”

Success Breeds Success

During the last financial year (2012/13), the NCPC-SA engaged no less than 36 textile and allied companies about RECP, with 50% of these deciding to join the RECP programme and undergo assessments. Of the R41-million in potential savings identified, close to R1.9-million had been implemented by way of low or now cost interventions – low hanging fruit – by the end of March 2013.

Another way the NCPC-SA is supporting this industry is through it’s internship programme. Now in it’s fourth year, the programme was launched in the clothing and textile sector, and it’s success has seen it expanded to other sectors. The NCPC-SA recruits and places engineering graduates in manufacturing plants. They are to identify and, where possible, implement resource efficiency and cleaner production interventions.

The interns are monitored and trained by technical mentors from the NCPC-SA and companies benefit from having an on-site individual dedicated to identifying resource-saving opportunities at an extremely low cost to them. Manufacturing companies are always being sought to act as host plants to the interns. There are also various dti industry incentives through the IDC for this industry.

One such scheme, the Productivity Incentive Programme (PIP), has been the benefactor of skilled employees, product improvements, and technology upgrades across industry peers. With more companies closing down each year, the case is very clear that closing the gap between opportunity and reality can save the industry – not only in terms of cash flow but also mere survival.

email to enquire about an RECP assessment, hosting an NCPC-SA intern or resource and energy efficiency training.

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