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Ethiopia Gets World’s First Fully Sustainable Denim Plant

Ethiopia’s manufacturing economy is on the upswing and now the country is home to the world’s first sustainable denim plant.

Kanoria Africa Textiles launched a state of the art denim fabric making facility near Bishoftu, Ethiopia Saturday with the latest in available technology and a truly zero discharge, closed loop production process.

Gaurav Nehra, the Indian-owned company’s executive for procurement said in explaining why Kanoria chose Ethiopia for its $45 million plant, “I feel Africa is the continent not only for the future, but for the present.”

And the country’s low energy costs were also part of the lure.

Electricity per kilowatt hour in Ethiopia is just $0.05, whereas China’s, for example, can be as much as double.

But beyond the low energy costs, Nehra said, “We chose Ethiopia because it’s a democracy, there’s a legal system in operation, the corruption is very low and the government is extremely friendly, very proactive and very keen on industry. It’s an amazing country.”

Kanoria started production of the 125,000 square meter facility in 2013, purchased its own power line spanning more than 4 miles to fuel the facility and at full capacity, the company will be able to produce 12 million meters (13 million yards) of denim fabric per year with the aim of expanding that capacity to 18 million within one year. The plant is the first to set up in the country’s Kata Industrial Zone.

Starting from the cotton, Kanoria is using 50 percent of Ethiopia’s long-staple variety and the remaining 50 percent will be imported from India and Pakistan, company president Nimish Kumar Hiralal Gandhi explained.

The cotton gets cleaned in a Blendomat Trutzschler machine, carded in Trutzschler’s latest IDF2 and spun in a Saurer Schlafhorst Autocoro 8, where if a thread breaks, the machine stops, rejoins the thread and continues spinning. For now, open-end spinning is available and ring spinning capabilities will be added within six months.

Metrics can be set for quality assurance on the machine’s touch screen system and the cotton gets further tested down the line in Kanoria’s lab, where the Uster Tester 5—the first of its kind in Ethiopia—tests yarns and provides simulations so that operators can compare to ASTM International Cotton Yarn Appearance Standards.

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The Uster also offers statistics culled from facilities using the machine worldwide, and so far Kanoria’s yarns are within a quality level that less than 5 percent of the world’s mills are making.

Yarns are then warped, dyed, washed and woven on Toyota’s Jat 810 weaver that moves up to 800 rpm. The fabric is then mercerized, singed for a cleaner finish and pre-shrunk.

Kanoria’s boilers and heaters essential to the process are all electric, meaning no chimneys, no ash and no pollution. But the company’s effluent treatment plant is really what ups its sustainability.

With it, the company can clean and reuse 85-90 percent of its water, which goes right back into the washing area of the plant. The remaining 10-15 percent moves on to a crystallizer, where a further 4 percent or so of the water can go back into the washing process and the balance is crystallized into salts Kanoria will give to local tanneries to use in the leather making process.

“This is the only integrated textile denim plant to have really no pollution,” Nehra said. “This plant could be anywhere in the U.S., Europe, Turkey, anywhere. It’s as good as any in Europe.”

The company will employ roughly 400 workers to start and has promised to ensure 60 percent of its workforce is Ethiopian, with local workers employed at all levels.

“We are not bringing plane-loads of workers from India,” Nehra said. “We have to integrate ourselves into Ethiopia.

So far, Kanoria has hired graduate trainees from a textile program at a local university for higher level positions as well as workers from neighboring villages and all are receiving as much as 10 weeks of both theoretical and practical training for the job. Workers receive transportation to work, lunch every day and will have access to healthcare.

“This is an idea of capacity building. We have to make them at least as good as anyone in Asia,” Nehra said. “We are trying to create an ecosystem, not just a manufacturing plant. We want this to be the factory model for others to follow.”

Kanoria is slated to start commercial production—75 percent of which will be for direct export—early next month and the company has already started making samples for PVH and VF, both of which have already established production in Africa. H&M has also expressed interest in working with the factory.

Africa’s manufacturing economy has not yet fully benefitted from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which provides for duty free exports to the U.S., according to Nehra, because the availability of the value chain is not there. Ethiopia, specifically, imports the majority of its cotton with no value added and very little fabric is being produced on the continent as a whole, which affects the region’s speed to market.

But Nehra feels Kanoria’s facility will be the impetus for more garment manufacturers to go to Ethiopia and export.

There has already been interest from India and Taiwan in building additional manufacturing capabilities in the Kata Industrial Zone and more trim producers are starting to set up in Ethiopia. And now that AGOA has been extended for 10 years, more investors will be able to make plans for business there. Two thirds of Kanoria’s fabric will go to the U.S. under AGOA.