Although Africa only accounted for 0.55% of world textile and apparel (T&A) exports in 2013(WTO, 2014), numerous studies have suggested that this is a region of strategic importance as a sourcing base in the long term. For example, according to one recent study released by McKinsey & Company, among 40 surveyed apparel chief purchasing officers from January to February 2015, around 40 percent expect to be sourcing a greater share of their portfolio from sub-Saharan Africa in the next 5 years.
Africa is gaining attention as a sourcing base largely because of its growing working-age population, which is expected to surpass China today by 2035 (Note: In comparison, affected by its one-child policy, China’s labor pool could shrink by one-fifth over the next 50 years). The current wage level in Africa is around USD 120 to 150 monthly for garment workers, higher than Bangladesh (USD 91/month), but lower than Vietnam (USD 254/month) and China (USD 324/month).
However, sourcing from Africa is not without challenges. One big disadvantage of African countries when competing with “factory Asia” is its nascent local textile industry, meaning most fabrics and raw material needed for apparel assembling in Africa has to be imported. As reported by the McKinsey & Company study, among those surveyed companies which involved in sourcing from Sub-Saharan Africa, only around 50% directly source from the region, 15% source via Asian suppliers’ headquarters and 32% source via agents.
Poor infrastructure in Africa further amplifies the problem of heavy reliance on imported fabrics, trims and other supplies. For example, It can add up to 40 days in transit, for fabrics manufactured overseas to come from abroad and make their way through customs and to the factory in Africa.
Look into the future, the collaboration between local governments, suppliers and buyers is suggested as the key to fully tap the potential of Africa as a sourcing base. Particularly, the McKinsey & Company report suggests US and EU-based apparel companies to evaluate Africa as a strategic option and think about the region beyond the next 2-3 years. Improving workers’ productivity, upgrading the industry to go beyond cut-make-and-trim (CMT) and establishing long-term partnership with buyers are suggested to be prioritized.