Kampala — It is Oct. 17, eighteen representatives of importers from Germany are touring Fine Spinner's garment factory in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb filming various activities and to ascertain the company's production processes and capacity.
Later, they would proceed to Kasese, South Western Uganda, to locate the origin of the cotton raw materials used in the factory for the production of T-shirts for export.
Stefanie Sumfleth, the head of corporate responsibility and quality management of Bonprix, one of the companies importing the T-shirts from Fine Spinners told The Independent in an interview on Oct. 17 that their intention was to shoot films to show their customers.
"At the end of it all, we want to have very high quality products and that the cotton production is sustainable," she said adding, "This is very important to us as a company but at the same time we want to support the farmers not with charity but with business."
Ellen Goes, a corporate responsibility officer with Witt-Gruppe, a member of Otto Group, said while they are yet to import any garment from Uganda, they are considering to do so.
She said their visit was to assess the production capacity and make decisions on whether or not to import garments from the factory.
Fine Spinners, which also has operations in Kenya, produces multiple bright coloured T-shirts - pink, yellow, blue and more - for export markets mainly Germany with labels 'Made in Uganda' and 'Made in Africa'. This is signalling optimism for the industry's move to recovery.
Started in 2014 after a US$40 million investment in the textile factory, Fine Spinners took over the premises of the defunct Tri-Star group that closed more than a decade ago citing irredeemable logistical problems and loss making during its operations.
This was followed up with the acquisition of Phenix Logistics Uganda Ltd - now under construction - from the Ugandan government in March this year for the production of mélange fabrics, which are made with more than one colour of fabrics, either by using different coloured fabrics or made with different fabrics that are then individually dyed. This is aimed at product diversification to serve various market segments.
Meanwhile, in May this year, Chinese's Sunbelt Textiles Company Limited, unveiled its USUS$18 million textile factory in Jinja, eastern Uganda, producing blankets, pillow cases and bed sheets for local and regional markets.
Jaswinder Bedi, the executive director at Fine Spinners, who also doubles as the chairman of the African Cotton and Textile Industry's Federation, told The Independent in an interview that Uganda's textile industry has high chances of growth due to availability of cotton countrywide.
"Uganda has been exporting most of its cotton; and we thought we could set up a factory here, utilise the raw materials and produce high quality garments," he said. "The production cost in this market is also still lower compared with Kenya."
He said the company currently produces 400,000 T-shirts per month for export and plans to double production in the next two years to serve both the local and foreign market.
He added that the company, which earned US$1.5million through the export of T-shirts last year, plans to sale 20 % of the production volumes to the local market at US$3 per T-shirt compared with US$10 for the same garment on the foreign market.
"We want to ensure that the local population also buys new clothes; they also deserve dignity," he said, adding that the move is also intended to re-align with the government's new policy of Buy Uganda Build Uganda.
This comes at the time majority of Uganda's population are relying on second-hand clothes. At the moment, second-hand clothes account for more than 81% for the country's clothes imports, according to Andrew Brook, in his book Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fashion and Second Hand Clothes.
This is higher than what the entire Sub-Saharan Africa, where second hand clothes and shoes account for over 50% of the clothing market.
The Ugandan government and the rest of the East African Community (EAC) states are currently determined to ban importation of second hand clothes into the bloc as a measure to promote local industries amidst complaints from US traders.
In 2016, EAC, which comprises of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan agreed to ban imports of used clothes in the region by 2019 as part of the EAC Vision 2050 and the Industrialization Policy to enhance manufacturing sector that currently contributes 8.7% to the regional Gross Domestic Product to 25% by 2032. The move, however, could also harm a multi-billion shilling group of importers.
Museveni favours local textiles
Meeting the United States Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Thomas A. Shannon, at Uganda House in New York City on Sept. 22 during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, President Yoweri Museveni said his government is against importation of second hand clothes because it is trying to develop its textile and apparel sector.
"Second hand clothes are killing the textile and apparel sector in Uganda. Industrialization of this sector is not only good for Uganda but for America as well. As partners the volume of trade grows and creates more incomes," he said.
Museveni's remarks were in response to the US Trade Representatives (USTR) earlier statements saying it was reviewing trade benefits to the region under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
This was after US traders in second-hand clothes complained about EAC plan to import used clothes arguing that the move would hurt their industry and also violate AGOA rules.
AGOA, which was extended last year, allows exporters from African countries that meet given terms, to export their goods into the U.S. without the usual tough restrictions. In turn, America also gets some preferential treatment of their products.
This new development coincides with the government plans to revive its cotton industry, one of the country's foreign exchange earners in the 1970s.
In addition, there has also been a surge in demand for cotton as raw materials from domestic mills and the potential to supply manufacturers producing clothes and textiles abroad.
At the moment, the country produces merely 110,707 bales per annum, grown in more than 60 districts in Busoga, Bukedi, Bugisu, Teso, Lango, Acholi, West Nile, and western regions employing thousands of Ugandan households.
With new investors joining the sector, amid government's commitment to inject more cash in the sector, more Ugandans are set to get jobs right from the farm and in the value adding chains.
Uganda's textile industry was founded in the 1950s and 1960s, spearheaded by the Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) that worked in tandem with the international partners, such as the Calico Printers Association of the United Kingdom and Yamato International of Japan, as well as domestic partners, such as Nyanza Textile Industries Limited (NYTIL) in Jinja, Mulco Textiles in Jinja, African Textile Mills (ATM) in Mbale and Lira Spinning Mill in Lira, according to Fredrick Lugojja's background paper prepared for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in March this year.
Under the auspices of UDC, a National Textile Board was established in late 1960s to guide the development of the textile industry in the country, with a focus on import substitution.
This, Lugojja said, was followed up with the nationalisation of the textile firm in 1970's and later liberalised in 1994 where government divested its shares in these textile firms.
"Nevertheless, in the early 1990s, the sector collapsed under the burden of obsolete machinery and other operational constraints, especially unreliable and expensive electricity," he said.
As at May this year, there were only three operational textile firms in Uganda including Southern Range Nyanza Limited, an integrated textile and garment manufacturing unit based in Njeru, Buikwe District.
However, the textile firms are not operating at full installed capacity due to the high cost of production and low demand for locally produced fabrics and garments as a result of high competition from cheaper imports and second-hand clothes.
As a result, domestic consumption of lint remains low, at an average of 3.3% of the total lint produced. Idle spinning capacity also exists, in the form of the non-functioning Lira Spinning Mill.