Swedish fast fashion retailer H&M was one of the first to foray into Africa for sourcing in 2013 and the company has since been vocal about Africa being its future continent.
H&M started with a small operation in Ethiopia—where it now has its regional hub office—to test the waters, then opened up production in Kenya, and so far things appear to be going well.
During a panel on best practices for a sustainable African apparel value chain at the Africa Sourcing show in Ethiopia Thursday, H&M country production manager Hande Diltemiz said, “We are very excited to be here and we are looking for more opportunities here. We want to contribute to sustainable growth here.”
Getting into Africa may be the latest talked about topic among curious brands and retailers, but Diltemiz stressed the importance of setting up sustainably in the region from the start.
H&M’s focus in Africa, she said, is to: do the right thing from the start, outline business best practices for local manufacturers and suppliers, establish good labor practices, secure the environmental performance and develop a sustainable cotton industry.
There’s no doubt interest in sourcing on the continent has increased in recent years, and more so since the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows for duty free access to the U.S. market for eligible countries, was extended for ten years. Ethiopia, one of those eligible countries, seems best-positioned to field an influx of sourcing opportunities—some have even called the country “the Bangladesh of Africa.”
Diltemiz said, however, “We should not compare with Asia. Ethiopia has it’s own challenges and we need to figure out how to do things better here.”
The company’s list of things to do in Africa is by no means short, but it’s plan for sourcing there is a long-term one.
“We were the first one but you will see in the future that many other buyers will come and many other investors will come,” Diltemiz said. “It will be a collective success at the end.”
“Sourcing is a continuous journey for H&M,” she also noted in closing. “We are not only in Africa, we are everywhere.”