Separate from its natural beauty, one tiny island off the southeast coast of Africa is making big noise about its manufacturing capabilities.
Participating in what was an 80-strong company Africa pavilion at Sourcing at MAGIC in Las Vegas last week, seven manufacturers from Mauritius touted their duty free trade relationship with the U.S., which has become ever more vital to American buyers still hoping to make margins in a price-pressured market.
“Mauritius has already established itself a solid international reputation as a reliable supplier of quality and competitive apparel,” said, Arvind Radhakrishna, CEO of Enterprise Mauritius, the country’s export promotion agency. “When it comes to apparel and textiles, as the days go by we see that there are more buyers looking for alternative sourcing destinations. They want to shift from China and a lot of them want to look at Mauritius.”
For Firemount Denim Co., a Mauritian exhibitor at Sourcing, being vertically integrated has helped ease buyers’ minds about speed to market. And beyond that, its competitive advantage has earned it long-term relationships with companies like PVH, which manufactures Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein product with Firemount.
The company has been in business for 26 years and now produces denim from cotton to garments, making more than 700,000 pieces a month, with an annual turnover of $100 million.
“In the Indian Ocean, nobody has a factory like us. We are proud of that,” the company’s general manager Soma Sekharan said. “We are unmatched in terms of innovation and R&D, we specialize in any kind of washes, and from cotton to spinning to weaving, dyeing, cutting, manufacturing, printing, embroidery, lasers—everything is in house and all under one roof.”
Fabric lead times can run as low as 20 days at Firemount because it’s made in house, and the lead time from final approvals to shipping from warehouse is 45 days.
Mauritius prides itself on having higher business and social standards than some other African nations, and according to Sekharan, political stability isn’t a problem in the country at all. A strong banking sector and dedication to easing investment also means when foreign companies open an LC there, it will be recognized, whereas many African countries don’t accept LCs from other African countries, Sekharan explained. The country’s local labor laws also apply to immigrant laborers, which is more than many countries can say for protecting their workforce.
Though buyers may still be a bit gun shy about sourcing in a country many can’t pinpoint on a map, what they are beginning to grasp about Mauritius is that communication is simple as everyone speaks English, quality is first-rate and consistency seems to be ever-present.
“The only disadvantage is the distance. We can compete with China and all other European countries, but we are much cheaper than that,” Sekharan said, adding that “Most of the clients are looking for a place where they can get their production on time, and that is Mauritius.”
Supporting that notion, Yannick Capiron, head of product development for Palmar Limitee, another exhibitor at the show, said clients are keen on stability.
“It’s safe in Mauritius. We have no crisis,” Capiron said, noting that holidays like Chinese New Year and days-long festivals in Bangladesh don’t happen in Mauritius, which means the country is open and producing for more days out of the year.
Palmar, a WRAP-certified denim and knits producer, has been in business for 35 years, and currently the time from completed production to U.S. port is 35 days.
Speed to market has been African nations’ biggest setback when it comes to sourcing, but Mauritius is looking at ways to make the best of its location. The country recently afforded a facility to the European Union that allows Mauritian manufacturers to save on airing goods for their clients, and Radhakrishna said a similar set up is in the works for the U.S. market.
That facility for airing goods, according to Sekharan, has cut as much as 40 days out of production lead times.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has been the region’s biggest draw, as that coupled with low labor costs helps the slightly longer lead times fade into the background of many buyers’ minds. African sourcing countries—Mauritius included—are taking every opportunity to highlight that fact, considering the uncertain trade times, especially with regard to political shifts in the U.S.
“So far nothing has happened with AGOA and me personally, I don’t think [President Trump] will touch AGOA,” Radhakrishna said.
To be able to capitalize on the brewing interest in Made in Mauritius, however, the country will have to make greater strides toward vertical integration, like bringing in investments in raw materials so that supply chains aren’t so heavily imported, which would shorten production cycles considerably.
Still, booths were busy for Mauritian manufacturers at Magic.
“Wherever we go for our textiles, there’s always a very good interest given the range we produce, the quality we produce, the quality we produce and the competitive prices,” Radhakrishna said.
Adding to that, H.E. Soorooj Phokeer, Mauritian ambassador to the U.S. said, “This is a very big opportunity for Mauritius to have such an exposure. For this I have to thank all the organizers of Sourcing at Magic and I have every hope that through Enterprise Mauritius and the manufacturers participating in this show, Mauritius will do a good job.”