Many renowned American and European clothing lines and stores source their apparel products globally, attracted by the lower operating costs that countries such as Bangladesh, China and Vietnam offer.
One company based at Baba Dogo’s Balaji Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Nairobi has also made its name as a good source of high-quality ‘Made in Kenya’ products if the list of its clientele is anything to go by.
United Aryan (EPZ) Limited makes a wide range of products including denims, leggings, trousers, skirts, shorts, fleeces, knit tops, shirts, robes and pajamas.
The firm, which is owned by Dubai-based Pankaj Bedi, lists US-based stores such as JC Penney Company, Walmart, Kohl’s, Macy’s, H&M and Sears as some of its customers.
It also serves clients in Kuwait, Bahrain Morocco and Mauritius. About 10 per cent of its products are sold locally. Mr Bedi, who also serves as United Aryan chairman, was in the country recently to inspect his business, which he says makes between Sh5 billion and Sh7 billion annually in revenues.
“Aryan trains all employees in a specific task along the value addition chain, allowing them to specialise on certain products which they are then able to manufacture to perfection,” he told Enterprise.
The company started out 15 years ago with one unit of 17 lines. At the moment, United Aryan has four units made up of 64 lines and 3,900 individual machines with the capacity to produce and wash more than 80,000 pieces of attire on a daily basis.
To churn out such large number of items, a factory needs a significant number of workers.
And United Aryan has just that — the company has employed about 10,000 workers to run the business, 70 per cent of whom are women.
“We do not discriminate but want young energetic people ready to meet our targets for a fair remuneration,” says Mr Bedi, adding that most of the female employees are breadwinners for their families and are therefore highly dedicated.
He reckons that the country’s clothes and apparel industry could create employment for even more skilled Kenyans if the government to draws up a clear policy in this key manufacturing sector.
An investment climate that discourages imports of second-hand clothes and tax rebates for local apparel makers to promote sale of clothes locally are some of the measures that the State needs to implement to spur growth in the sector.
The globetrotting businessman, who also owns cocoa and cotton plantations in Ivory Coast, says Kenya could gain immensely if it allowed foreign agents for various retail chains to set base in Kenya.
Mr Bedi in 2015 announced that he planned to expand United Aryan at a cost of Sh4.2 billion. The expansion could see the company double its workforce to 20,000 employees by 2018.
Statistics from the African Cotton & Textile Industries Federation show that the local textile industry peaked in 1984 with 52 mills producing over 70,000 bales and employing more than 42,000 people.
Currently, there are about 15 mills that operate at a capacity of between 30 per cent and 45 per cent with the decline being linked to trade liberalisation policies undertaken from the 1980s.
Revamping Kenya’s textiles industry for growth and jobs creation is a key plank of the government’s industrial action-plan, with the country betting on rising labour costs in Asia to work in its favour.