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Zero Tariff Benefit Draws Increased Interest for Denim Made in Mauritius

Made in Mauritius denim is making its mark on the industry—particularly at a time when the promise of zero tariffs proves an even more precious perk.

The tiny isle off the coast of Africa enjoys the benefits of the yet untouched African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade privilege program that means it can ship product to the U.S. duty free. And Mauritius enjoys a similar perk with Europe, shipping goods duty free there under its Everything But Arms (EBA) trade program. The trade agreements alone position Mauritius to serve global brands that can ship to key customers in both regions without tariffs straining margins that are likely already tight.

And at Denim De L’Ile (DDI), there’s also the benefit of the Italian expertise in denim fabric.

The 100 percent Italian owned mill has been operating its fully vertical facility in Mauritius since 2004. There, DDI buys bales of cotton, spins its own yarn, weaves its own fabric, cuts and washes it to sell a full package product. Much of that is also done using Italian machinery.

“We have Italian technologies for the washing. We have Tonello machines for the washing with the latest techniques that Tonello incorporates to minimize the water consumption and the chemical consumption,” DDI owner and marketing manager Stefano Caccia said. “The characteristic of the company is that of course we have an Italian heritage, which means we know very specific washes.”

Sustainability is also part of the ethos at DDI, which counts Emporio Armani among its clients. The company sources Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA) for as much as 70 percent of its production, has a recycled cotton program in place, and shreds its waste back into fiber form to put back into production.

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“We are almost achieving a zero landfill waste company,” Caccia said. “The main characteristic of our company is our sustainability. It’s our main characteristic.”

In Mauritius, in fact, sustainability is commonplace among the manufacturers, both because the companies are employing more eco-friendly thinking and because resources aren’t as easy to come by.

“Mauritius does not have a lot of resources, so we have to optimize them. And because of the optimization, we have a higher standard than the rest of the market,” Caccia said.

In terms of exports, Mauritius ships roughly $800 million worth of textiles and apparel to its main export markets—the U.S., UK, France and South Africa, according to the country’s Economic Development Board.

“Denim is the third major apparel product after T-shirts and shirts,” said Geerish Bucktowonsing, head of traditional manufacturing for the Economic Development Board.

Other vertically integrated denim manufacturers in the country include Palmar & Firemount, which Bucktowonsing said has been working in the U.S. and Europe at the mid-premium tier for roughly 20 years. The company produces stretch, rigid, selvedge, sateen and 3×1 denim for companies like Calvin Klein, Chaps, Lucky Jeans, Tommy Hilfiger and Rocawear.

For Fairy Textiles, which specializes in denim, using its own dye house and a focus on the latest trends in washing, sourcing in Mauritius is about the quality, above all else.

“We are far better than China and Bangladesh for quality,” said Fairy Textiles director Ajay Bhowaneedin. The company sources some of its denim from DDI and some from local FM Denim, which also produces its own fabric on island, meaning the majority of Fairy Textiles denim is almost wholly made in Mauritius.

GNP Wear, another denim factory in Mauritius, also sources its denim fabric from DDI, which means it’s local, close and cuts time out of the development cycle.

“We can be fast in terms of a delivery, and for a niche market it’s very important,” a spokesperson for GNP Wear said. Smaller runs work here, too, as GNP Wear will make orders for a minimum of 500 pieces, though it has the capacity to produce as much as 5,000 pieces per style.

What’s more, the spokesperson continued, “In term of communication, credibility in terms of delivery, we are faster than Asian countries, and the big advantage is AGOA.”

Mauritius manufacturers exhibiting at the recent Texworld USA said they’ve seen an uptick in interest when it comes to sourcing there as companies look to minimize their reliance on China and the risk as a result of it, while the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China gives rise to new tariffs with little warning.

“Landed price we are actually cheaper than China on many products,” DDI’s Caccia said. “Companies need to look at different sources.”

Mauritius may not yet be making headlines as a supplier of denim, but that’s something Caccia owes to a lack of open-mindedness about new sourcing locales. But the benefits may be manifold if brands and retailers can look past that.

“If you decided to come to Mauritus, it’s not only for denim but for knitwear, casual shirts, formal wear, swimwear, sweaters…if you are a medium sized company, you come here, you stay here,” Caccia said.