Mauritian garment and textiles industry leaders have started dreaming big and seeking to make the country into a marketing centre and fashion hub. While the domestic textiles industry has been declining, many of Mauritius's largest companies are continuing to grow due to vertical integration that allows them to control value chains.
They have been investing in technology and training, moving to higher-end production and shifting manufacturing operations to cheaper destinations as there is a lot of manpower in Africa.
It is not a question of producing like it was earlier. But more and more marketing arm will be staying in Mauritius, while part of the production may be done in Bangladesh or Madagascar.
Companies like CIEL Textile, one of the island's largest groups, have expanded abroad. Of its 16 production facilities, seven are in Mauritius, five are in Madagascar, while three are in India and one is in Bangladesh.
According to Chief executive Harold Mayer, the group is planning to make investment of around Rs600m ($19m) in four new plants in Asia over the next five years.
Others, like Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile (CMT), have started to focus on local production. CMT, which started in 1986 with 30 employees doing mainly basic cut, make and trim work, is now a fully integrated producer. It has seven production sites that also handle design, knitting, dyeing and sewing. CMT employs 10,000 people and plans to increase exports from its current level of 60m garments per year.
The world has changed since investors from Hong Kong kickstarted the Mauritian textiles industry in the 1980s.
They were looking for a new export base because the World Trade Organisation's Multifibre Agreement (MFA), which imposed quotas on exports from developing countries to the developed world, constrained shipments from their factories. But the end of the MFA in 2005 did not help either, and the number of factories declined from 660 then to around 240 today.
Exports declined slightly from Rs26.6bn in 2000 to Rs24.9bn last year, while employment in the sector fell from 81,000 people in 2000 to around 43,000 in 2013, according to Statistics Mauritius.
Dev Chamroo, chief executive of ex- port promotion body Enterprise Mauritius, expects new investment in the textiles sector, including spinning plants and increased dyeing, knitting and finishing capacity. According to him, local firms will set up factories elsewhere in Africa as there is a lot of manpower in Africa, and it is fast building its infrastructure. But those two are not enough, there is a strong need for marketing, access to technology and fast access to raw material.
With 43 years of experience, Mauritius people know where to source fabrics, where to source trims, where to get accessories, where to get equipment, who are the clients to look at â€“ so they would like to play the same role as Hong Kong does as a marketing destination.
The country's financial services sector could also provide funding to the textile sector to help strengthen linkages.
Tianli Spinning, one of the island's largest suppliers of yarn, launched a programme last year to encourage farmers in Madagascar to grow cotton for its Mauritian mill, where it is investing Rs2bn to double capacity.
There are some great African designers, but they've taken residence in Paris, New York and elsewhere. There is a lot of capacity building going on in Mauritius and South Africa, and fashion and design schools in countries like Senegal and Ethiopia. They are trying to see whether they can establish a hub where the best African designers will produce African designs and garments for the world. The government is working to turn Mauritius into a fashion hub.
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