South Africa is fighting to revive its frayed clothing industry. It was once a crucial provider of jobs but a flood of cheap imports is forcing factories to lay off workers. It was once the economic lifeblood of many small regional towns, but the abundance of cheaper products from China has led to the loss of nearly two-thirds of the sector’s jobs over the past two decades. Fast fashion retailers, which largely source their products from outside South Africa, have aggressively expanded in the country, denting sales of locally-made garments. The key obstacle to this sector is an inability to develop niche markets. South Africa is not a low cost producer. The main aim of the South African textile and clothing industry is to use all the natural, human and technological resources at its disposal to make it the preferred international supplier of textiles and apparel. Although the industry is small, it is well placed to make this vision a reality.
Tariffs were one of a series of tools used to assist the industry but they don’t provide a long-term competitive advantage. South Africa is now exploring options such as technology acquisition and skill development in niche areas as a first response to industry development.