Egyptian garment manufacturing giant Alex Apparels—which is part of the global end-to-end textile expert Alpine Group—is preparing to open its 10th factory in Alexandria later this year.
The company—which the Export Council of Egypt recognized as the country’s No. 1 apparel exporter for 2021-22—said the facility, in the process of achieving gold Leed certification, focuses on lean manufacturing—a shift Covid-19 accelerated.
“There has been a stigma about manufacturing in Egypt,” said Ashok Mahtani, who heads the Alpine group, which has manufacturing facilities in Egypt, Bangladesh and Vietnam, as well as partner facilities in Bangladesh. Alex Apparels, whose inaugural factory opened in 1995 in Alexandria, is the manufacturing arm of Alpine Group, whose brand partners include Under Armour, American Eagle Outfitters, Calvin Klein, and Abercrombie & Fitch.
“I feel more brands will come to Egypt. As we are going through this journey, more and more brands will come. Many buyers say ‘oh no, we’re not going to Egypt, too much trouble.’ We want to remove that stigma,” Mahtani said.
Almost 40 years since launching the business from a small office in Taiwan, Mahtani sees the potential for manufacturing in Egypt, which accounts for more than 45 percent of the Alpine Group’s global exports.
Mahtani told Sourcing Journal that this growth would be further supported by the new textile mill, the company’s first knitting and dyeing unit in Egypt.
“In the apparel business, everything is about speed. To have the manufacturing close to needle is important,” he said. “Gen Z wants what they want tomorrow, to be delivered today, and also to reduce the carbon footprint of global operations that would support the shift towards sustainable fashion. Right now, we import our fabrics from Taiwan and China and it takes about 45 days to reach Egypt. Textile mills in Egypt usually make cotton—we are concentrating on man-made fiber, because our business gravitates toward activewear, sportswear and athleisure. For this you need performance fabrics—odor-free, cooling fabrics, heating fabrics, engineered to a certain performance level. We will manufacture those high-end technical fabrics in our mills.”
Rapidly responding to market demands has been an important part of Alex Apparels’ journey. “Co-creation and collaboration is a big trend,” he said.
The new factory of the future facility will include co-creation spaces and an experimentation station that will facilitate a new level of design collaboration with global brands.
Mahtani said sourcing hubs now require nuanced insights into the global market.
“We started the company in Taiwan 40 years ago on May 14, dealing in yarn and textiles selling to garment factories in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. From there we graduated to making garments in Sri Lanka. At that time it was a quota system, where every country had a quota to sell to the U.S.,” he said. “So, we had to look for other countries. Then my brother moved to Dubai and set up a factory there. The Dubai government was very keen to have industry.”
The particular skill set of working in the garment sector has taken all those 40 years to hone.
“People may look at the garment manufacturing business and say, ‘We can all do it.’ But that is wrong. It doesn’t happen that way,” Mahtani said. “Even with all our experience, it was something brand new, we had to send our engineers from the U.S. to set up the factories, train the employees. So we started from scratch. Literally showing them how to get on a machine and sew garments. That was our beginning in Egypt and that was tough.
“We went through the Gulf War, the Mubarak regime, the uprising, but we did not let even a single one of our staff go—even during Covid,” he added. “We made it a point that we will keep all 10,000 people working in our companies.”
Ehab Mohi, managing director, Alex Apparel, Egypt, described the changing sustainability landscape. The 10th Alex factory is using green materials, including ‘green’ concrete, which saves 25 percent more water compared to conventional concrete, using locally sourced materials. “It grows into you,” he said, describing the way the business itself has expanded since he moved back to Egypt 27 years ago, having worked with the company in Dubai. “All the Alex factories are within the free zone, so I can make the rounds in my car going from one factory to another. But there is a lot of government interaction to run industries in Egypt. It is a blessing to have the factories in one location.”
Does this growth fit in with Egypt’s 2035 Vision Strategy?
“We are feeling on the ground that this new government is very business friendly and has seen the potential of how some other countries have progressed, and their own potential with the 110 million people living here. Second, they want to create sustainable industries and they are inviting people from the world over to invest and bring technology into Egypt, which is what we have been doing. We are ready,” he said.