Companies may be on the fence about whether to commit to sourcing apparel in Africa, but the U.S. seems certain enough about the continent’s potential to keep investing in the sector there—and namely in Kenya.
Last week, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) East Africa Trade and Investment Hub (the Hub) signed a grant with Kenya that will create 2,000 full-time jobs and provide more than 100,000 hours in skills development for young workers in the apparel industry.
While Africa ramps up as a region for more robust apparel sourcing, the biggest hindrance for those that haven’t taken their business there has been both a lack of sophisticated logistics and a lack of skills in the apparel sector.
[Read more about sourcing in East Africa: East Africa May be the Best New Bet for Sourcing Ethical Fashion]
With this new program, however, skills in particular are expected to advance among the young population of workers who will be driving the sector forward. USAID, alongside Kenya’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, plus apparel companies, will set up and deck out seven training centers throughout Kenya. Four thousand young people will participate in the program, and the pilot includes recruitment, training and job placement in the apparel industry.
“By the end of the program, the 2,000 trained Kenyan youth will help address the skills gap that currently hinders growth in the apparel sector in Kenya,” a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya said. “In addition, the goal of the pilot is to create a sustainable and replicable model for apparel sector skills development throughout East Africa.”
Though President Trump hasn’t really embraced continuing U.S. trade relations as is, U.S. this move is one he might like.
“The program focuses on at-risk youth employment, skilled workforce development and economic expansion through global supply chain enhancement,” USAID Kenya acting mission director Tina Dooley-Jones, said. “It aligns well with the priorities of our new administration by providing a business-enabled environment that supports both U.S. and African businesses and investors.”
What also supports U.S. and African businesses is the still-in-place African Growth and Opportunity Act, which—barring any radical changes resulting from the Trump Administration’s review of all trade deals and preference programs—will mean duty free access for goods out of qualifying African countries to the U.S. through 2025.
The signing of the grant last week also marks the official kick-off of the East Africa Cotton, Textile and Apparel Workforce Development Initiative, a partnership between the Hub and the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) to ensure U.S. brands and retailers goods are manufactured in accordance with “best business practices and operations” in East Africa, according to USAID.
Last year, the U.S. imported $340.7 million worth of textiles and apparel from Kenya, which was a 7.56 percent decrease from the prior year. As of May, imports from Kenya were down 7.31 percent to $133.7 million. As other trade programs or trade relations become pressured, if AGOA stays intact, imports are expected to increase.