Mauritian garment and textiles industry leaders are dreaming big and seeking to make the country into a marketing centre and fashion hub after seeing many of Mauritius's largest companies 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. While, the domestic textile industry has been declining.
Gilbert Gnany, chief strategy officer at financial services company MCB Group, said that in textiles today, they are unable to compete with China. It is not a question of producing like they used to. But more and more the marketing arm staying in Mauritius, while part of the production is 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.
Chief executive Harold Mayer announced last year that the group is planning to make investment of Rs600m ($19m) in four new plants in Asia over the next five years.
Others, like Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile (CMT), have focused 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 having 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 kick started the Mauritian textiles industry in theâ€¨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.
After two decades of rapid growth, the Mauritian industry reached a peak in 2000, when the rising cost of labour made it increasingly difficult to compete with Chinese exports.
The end of the MFA in 2005 did not help either, and the number of factories declined from 660 then to around 240 today.
According to Statistics Mauritius, 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
Dev Chamroo, chief executive of export promotion body Enterprise Mauritius, expects new investment in the textiles sector, including spinning plants and increased dyeing, knitting and finishing capacity.
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 need for marketing, access to technology and fast access to raw material. With 43 years of experience â€“ they now know where to source fabrics, source trims, get accessories, 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, Chamroo said.
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 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 they can use the best African designers to produce African designs and garments for the world. The government is working to turn Mauritius into a fashion hub
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