The fashion industry is setting its sights on Ethiopia as a new home of manufacturing. Martijn van der Erve, CEO of Erve Group, saw the opportunity to produce in Ethiopia as an alternative to popular manufacturing locations like Bangladesh. In 2014, the company established Beconnected Africa, a buying house for finished garments. Following its success, it was joined by Beconnected Industrial, two factories under one roof specializing in printing and labels. “Our garment industry expertise since 1985 has been transferred to Africa”, says Simona Marta Grava, director of Beconnected Africa.
“Ethiopia is the next frontier for textiles”, Van der Erve says, citing the country’s many advantages for customers and employees. As one the of fastest-growing economies in the world, Ethiopia offers duty-free importing opportunities, competitive energy costs and wide-ranging government support for international investment. A variety of retailers have already started producing in Ethiopia, including fashion heavyweights H&M, Lee, Wrangler, PVH, JC Penny, New Look and Decathlon.
When you’re the first of a kind to set up shop, there’s a lot of initial investment involved. As the first textile printing and labeling factories in Ethiopia, Beconnected Industrial saw the need for a long-term business model that would cement Ethiopia’s presence as a favorable location for garment production. The company is now a preferred supplier of labels and approved for textile printing by some of the biggest brands in fashion.
“From the moment that the company first set ground in Ethiopia, the focus has been on a long-term presence in the Ethiopian garment supply chain”, says Beconnected Industrial’s CEO Jason Yang. The company invested heavily in high-end machinery and industry-leading technology from Switzerland and China, and partnered with a major fashion retailer to set up two factories under one roof which are fully compliant with the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) initiative.
As with all of Beconnected’s companies, having a reduced environmental footprint is an important part of operations in Ethiopia. “Beconnected Africa’s customers are happy to find locally produced labels and prints that meet such high levels of compliance and sustainability”, says Grava.
The high availability of cost-competitive clean and renewable energy makes it easier for Beconnected Industrial to deliver on this mandate. Ethiopia provides ample power from hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal sources, meaning that producing large volumes of textile prints and labels can be completed with a far smaller environmental footprint.
In addition to investment in cutting-edge machinery, all raw materials used at Beconnected Industrial are sourced from reliable and certified suppliers. “The aim of Beconnected Industrial is to do good business, be good for the environment and invest in our staff”, say Yang and Steehouwer. “Beconnected is constantly working on improving sustainability by using environmentally friendly materials and working together with certification and audit companies like OEKO-TEX and Better works”.
There’s also increased demand for products made from recycled materials, such as woven and printed labels. Beconnected Industrial is happy to respond to this change. “As per popular request throughout the entire garment sector, we are switching a lot of our existing products to recycled versions”, says Rense Steehouwer, head of Sales & Sustainable Development.
More efficient service
By opening in Ethiopia, Beconnected Africa and Beconnected Industrial bring more than 35 years of apparel industry experience to the African market. This means customers can expect the same level of service and cost-efficiency that they would receive in Europe, but with Africa’s market advantages. Retailers around the world can source apparel in Ethiopia with the help of Beconnected Africa, which takes care of the entire process, from first concepts until finished garments are delivered.
Job creation and upskilling
While Beconnected Africa brings a steady stream of business to local factories, Beconnected Industrial provides a wealth of employment opportunities for Ethiopian communities. Staff receive technical training and the opportunity to travel internationally for professional development. The wellbeing of employees is a high priority for the organization. Staff also enjoy benefits such as free transport to and from work and a daily free lunch from the on-site restaurant.
“Our company finds it very important to also give back to our employees. We strive to educate, train and help them grow. Because of this, we go above and beyond to provide our staff with stimulating incentives”, say Yang and Steehouwer.
The company also works under a strict code of conduct which ensures that human rights are always adhered to, prohibits forced and child labor and includes regular inspections to check safety and employee wellbeing.
What’s next for Ethiopia
As Ethiopia develops into a new hub of garment production, partner companies such as fabric mills are opening up and international banking may become available in future. These developments will attract even more retailers to source from the area.
Steehouwer explains that Beconnected Industrial’s factories are already considering expansions and additional product lines. They aim to increase capacity for producing woven labels by investing in extra looms and in technology to produce thermal-printed products.
The combination of an ambitious vision, a commitment to sustainability and the talented people working in Ethiopia’s apparel sector are indicators of a successful future. This could mean that “made in Ethiopia” labels will soon be hanging in wardrobes around the world.