A once-thriving industry is looking to make a comeback in Mauritius.
Located off the coast of Southeast Africa, the island nation was out in force at February’s Sourcing at Magic show in Las Vegas, showcasing the capabilities of 11 companies, each one hoping the recent 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) will help it pick up more business in the U.S.
Though all eyes appear to be on the emerging markets of Ethiopia and Kenya, Arvind Radhakrishna, CEO of Enterprise Mauritius, pointed out that the country has been in the apparel game for decades.
“Over the years we have established a solid reputation internationally as a major exporter of garments—and we already export a lot to the U.S. and a lot to Europe,” he said, citing T-shirts, shirts and denim among the country’s main products. “Many of our factories are vertically integrated and of course we produce quality goods at very competitive prices.”
These days, most Mauritian textile and apparel products head for the E.U, but around $227 million worth landed stateside in 2014 and, according to government data, roughly $144.8 million in the first nine months of 2015. Furthermore, the country was named the most innovative in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 2015 Global Innovations Index published by Johnson Cornell University and the World Intellectual Property Organization.
“At a certain time a few years ago, Mauritius was the third biggest producer of knitwear in the world. We were very big,” Radhakrishna continued, noting that even if AGOA is not renewed in 10 years’ time, “Mauritius will be fine” because it’s already taking action to grow its exports to Eastern Europe, Australia and the Middle East, in addition to being a member of both SADC (South African Development Community) and COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Africa).
One Mauritian manufacturer hoping its appearance at the Sourcing show would add some U.S. names to its roster was Palmar Limitée.
“We really have two products, one being circular knits, which is T-shirts, sweatshirts, polos—and we are fully vertical from the yarn stage to the finished product, with a capacity of about 350,000 units per month—and on the other side we’re doing denim and woven bottoms only, and that’s a semi vertical operation,” marketing director Guillame Heller said, noting that his company’s sustainable approach to production includes low-impact dyeing and lasers.
In addition, the facility is certified to the standards of WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production), GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), Oeko-Tex and Fair Trade.
Another exhibitor, knitwear manufacturer Miaoli Merchants, lauded the benefits of investing in Mauritius.
“I’ve been there for about three to four years,” said Yukio Huang, explaining that he’s slowing shifting Miaoli’s production away from South Africa, where his head office is, to Mauritius. “There is a lot of political unease in South Africa and sourcing labor has become difficult because they don’t want to issue work permits to overseas technicians or managers.”
Not to mention: “Maybe once a week I have a six- to eight-hour power cut in South Africa, meaning no computer, no internet, no machines running.”
And while Huang said the average textile worker in Mauritius is earning $300 to $400 per month (compared to the monthly minimum wage of $140 in Cambodia), he said it’s worth it if it means he never has to deal with load shedding. He laughed, “At least now my deliveries are on time!”