Weaving magic in Mtwalume
The company focuses on specialised patterns and short production runs.
"In many ways, ours is the typical textile story. We were the minority shareholders of the textile mill but our relevance shifted after 1994.
With government adopting more of a world trade policy approach, our partners increasingly used imported goods that were cheaper than what we could offer," says Imraan Bux, director at Imraan Textile Mills.
This resulted in a significant slowdown at the mill with the long-term prospects not appealing to the owners. The minority shareholders were offered the opportunity to either buy them out or have the mill closed down. Bux says the choice was straightforward.
"We approached the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) in 2005 to assist us with capital to fund the buy-out. It also enabled us to purchase raw material, providing a springboard for the consequent growth and viability of the business," he says.
While the IDC saw the potential of Imraan Textile Mills, Bux says, many other manufacturers were not so lucky.
"Since 1994, we have probably lost approximately 80% of the local textile manufacturing industry and around 400 000 jobs. For its part, government did what it felt was right at the time with the direction of its trade policy. But the inefficiencies of the textile industry definitely came to light during this period and we all struggled."
As with many other manufacturers who approached the IDC, funding was just one part of the equation.
The Clothing, Textiles, Leather, and Footwear Competitiveness Scheme allowed the company to modernise its equipment, thereby improving its efficiencies and competitiveness in the industry. This provided Imraan Textile Mills with much-needed momentum.
Another IDC client, Vrede Textiles in Atlantis, purchased some of the old looms at a favourable price to increase its capacity. The IDC also facilitated this company-to-company transaction which benefited both parties.
"We were really at rock-bottom when the IDC pulled through. Everything that happened subsequent to the funding has been good for the company and we have really been able to show significant growth in the past three years."
Bux says that when they approached the IDC they were one of the exceptions but now the programme has grown to in excess of 170 applicants and the South African textile industry is moving in the right direction for the first time in many years.
And while he admits that importers offer retailers some benefits, the local manufacturers now have speed and efficiency on their side.
"Our number one advantage is our location. Being a South African company means we have time-to-market on our side and can meet the changing demands of our customers significantly quicker than the overseas manufacturers that have lead times that can reach up to six or seven months. Essentially, we can give our clients what they want and when they need it."
Bux says that the import market is also not immune to many of the industry challenges faced by local manufacturers.
"Even imported goods are more expensive than in the past due to global economic conditions. Issues around more competitors, fickle European markets, and requirements that often result in fast turnaround times are all impacting Asian textile manufacturers in similar ways that they are impacting us."
He says that with the assistance of the IDC, Imraan Textile Mills and numerous other local manufacturers have been turned around, resulting in increasing optimism in the sector.
"The past three years have seen us grow virtually exponentially thanks to the momentum we built from the IDC. In 1994, it was the worst possible time to be in the textile industry. Today, while it is not easy, things are considerably better and we believe that there are many opportunities for companies like ourselves and others," says Bux.
He does caution that local textile manufacturers need to change gears in how they produce goods.
"This is a new era for the industry and one that the local manufacturers have not experienced before. My father who has been in this business for many decades says that he has not seen anything like this before. We are all passionate about what we do and we are ready for the challenges to come, thanks to the likes of the IDC and the support they provide the industry.
This article was supplied and approved by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers. It forms part of a larger supplement.