Textile industry players in the region have been challenged to start making garments that require low level technology and skills as the East African Community (EAC) countries prepare to phase-out imported used clothes.
Lilian Awinja, the Executive Director of the East African Business Council (EABC), said the sector can manufacture apparels such as inner garments, ties, scarfs that require low level technology and skills.
"It is a high time that EAC countries embarked on manufacturing apparels such as inner garments, ties, scarfs that require low level technology and skills as the region works on a phase out approach of imported second hand clothes," said Awinja.
In 2016, the five EAC members - Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania - agreed on phased plan and eventual ban on the importation of used clothes and leather products by 2018 to support industrialisation and job-creation in the region.
Awinja was speaking ahead of the second East African Business and Entrepreneurship Conference and Exhibition scheduled for November 14 to 16 in Dar es salaam, Tanzania.
The event is meant to provide a platform to create synergies and linkages between the local cotton and textile industries with local suppliers and the fashion and design industry. The meeting is also expected to devise an action plan outlining the policies and modalities to promote the sector performance, productivity and quality, according to a statement from organisers.
According to EABC, cotton production, processing and trade is highly influenced by policies of major producing countries through price support, tariff protection, production subsidies and stock piling that destabilise cotton prices.
The region's cotton industry also faces huge challenges, including low yields, low ginning out-turn ratio and inefficient value addition, which affect its competitiveness, the apex body of private sector and corporate firms in bloc added.
Awinja said the textile industry needs to innovate and embrace value addition to produce aesthetic accessories, interior designs and fashion and hence create more job opportunities in the EAC. The EABC official said only 15 per cent of EAC cotton is processed locally, while 85 per cent is exported in form of lint to other countries.
She challenged regional sector players and governments to put in place programmes that will help reverse the trend, saying the lint should work as "a raw material base for textile and apparel manufacturing in the region".
The upcoming regional business and entrepreneurship conference and exhibition will also feature fashion show for designers and firms to showcase the creations and forge market ties. It will also act as a platform to encourage East Africans to consume products made in the region, a move organisers say is crucial to strengthen local value chains.
Key fashion and textiles industry players, including Sunny Dolat from HEVA Fund, are expected to discuss ways of building synergies between cotton growers and the textile industry, and the untapped market opportunities in the region.
According to Awinja, the African fashion and design industry will have a huge opportunity "to be in the limelight on the international market".
During the conference, there will also be discussions on information communication technology, urbanisation, cotton and textile, patents and copyrights in the creative industry, trade and gender, health, agri-business, and e-commerce. In addition, the East African Diaspora will be engaged to increase investment into the region. The simultaneous exhibition will give participants big opportunities to network and forge partnerships with other organisations and businesses, according to the organisers.
The event will also host a "Start-up Corner" to boost entrepreneurship and attract investments in the East Africa region.