The South African clothing, textiles, footware and leather industry (CTFL) is showing signs of recovery after years of decade long- gradual decline. The sector remains vulnerable to cheap imports particularly from China and this contributed to its massive fall.

Retail experts revealed this at a clothing and textile forum, organised by Proudly SA and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in Johannesburg, on Wednesday.

The clothing, textiles, footware and leather accounts for about 14% of manufacturing and currently employs 140 000 people.

Government says improvement in the sector largely as a result of policies and interventions from the Department of Trade and Industry and the collaboration between local manufacturers and private sector is yielding some positive results.

Chief Director at the DTI, Abisha Tembo says his department has created different clusters to re-vamp the CTFL sector; and government has already injected over R5 billion to the industry. They are also working with SARS to reduce illegal imports of goods.

“We came up with the textile and clothing customised sector program in 2005. We then established the clothing and textile competitive program and this program has been a saver for us and because of the success of the program we looked at other areas of enhancing our manufacturers to make sure we can improve on growth in the sector,” says Tembo.

CEO of Proudly SA, Eustace Mashimbye says government together with the private sector is urgently looking for solutions to save the dying industry.

“This is one industry that used to employ a lot of people and  I know people who use to work in Newcastle in some of the factories that closed down where a lot of jobs were lost and we are focusing our energy into turning this industry around,” says Mashimbye.

Proudly SA says it is educating consumers and retailers on the benefits of buying and selling locally produced products.  It launched a tender monitoring site that will be linked to governments Central Supply Data (CSD) for its members.  This will make it easier for its numbers to do business with government.

He has urged international retailers to work with local designers and producers, “We are going to work with all these retailers who are localising and we are going to work with them so that we can drive to the point where people will look at the labels of the origin and choose that which is made locally.

“I know there are engagements happening between the minister of economic development and H&M to localise and we know that they want to come to the party but what about Zara and Cotton On there are jobs being lost there, we are going to bleed. It’s going to be a huge blood bath if they don’t localise as well.”

In 1996 South Africa had 1 600 clothing, textile, and leather and foot ware factories.

In 2016 it dropped to 900 plants the country lost 700 factories in the last 20 years including thousands of jobs. In the last four years South Africa has seen an increase in imported Chinese clothing and textile goods by 730%.

Proudly SA says the sector has lost 110 000 jobs in the last 16 years. There are 140 000 jobs in the CTFL sector