Adecline in local work apparel manufac- turing owing to a rise in labour costs in recent years has led to an influx of imports from the East, says uniform solutions and management specialist Kit Group CEO Joe Pereira.
“The local work attire industry remains in a state of stress, as it has been for the past few years. However, we are optimistic and believe that the industry can find inno- vative ways of dealing with this reality,” he adds.
Pereira says that, through capital investment, offering added services and sup- porting local manufacturers, work wear suppliers can contribute to countering imports from the East and empower local industry.
“The closure of many local fabric mills has forced Kit Group to import fabrics. Nonetheless, we try to support local manufacturing as far as possible, but this is becoming difficult to maintain,” he notes.
Although imported work garments offer the benefit of lower costs, it can be overshadowed by inconsistency in supply and quality. Pereira says, to better control these factors, infrastructure and monitoring systems have to be put in place beyond local borders.
“Supervision is needed to ensure cloth and garment manufacturers adhere to the standard requirements, but industry role-players have been reluctant to imple- ment such systems, as it increases the price of garments,” he explains.
Consequently, some importers do not follow quality assurance steps and are able to offer cheaper products; therefore, local manufacturers can not be price competitive.
Pereira says Kit Group seeks to improve its competitiveness by expanding its service offering, with its custom-developed vendor management system (VMS) for security applications.
He notes that the system offers added benefits in terms of budget control and cost efficiency, as it monitors product life and demand patterns, besides other aspects.
“This Web-based application is a service offering that acts as a cost-effective business management tool. It enables the end-user to procure, manage and control its uniform budget in totality,” Pereira says.
This makes the company’s locally manufactured garments more appealing, despite these being more expensive than their imported counterparts, he states.
The Kit Group developed the system and implemented it into its service offering about three years ago.
“The system adds a totally different dimension to our service and we have received positive feedback from clients,” Pereira notes.
Kit Group marketing executive Charl Cilliers tells Engineering News that the system is beneficial to both manufacturers and clients, as the staff turnover in the security industry is exceptionally high.
Owing to the industry also having an unpredictable demand pattern, companies have to reorder constantly and unexpectedly, and sizes always differ. This can be a complex process, especially in bigger firms.
“The VMS simplifies this process. A database is created, which enables us to determine how much stock we should keep and the amount for each size. This allows for consistency of supply, which is cardinal to this industry that sometimes has unpredictable demand. It also assists the clients in knowing how much they need and improves budget control,” he says.
By monitoring the product life of uniforms, the system allows companies to identify areas of wear and determine the correct uniform for certain applications so that it lasts longer. This relates to cost- efficient production.
In terms of development, Cilliers says the company hopes to expand the system beyond the security industry. “We are also looking to use the system to better monitor uniform returns and find a more sustainable solution for old uniforms.”
“There is a move towards ensuring that employees are dressed according to quality standards and issued the correct safety tools,” he notes.
Another trend in recent years has been an increase in demand for personalised, custom-made uniforms.
“Companies are becoming more independent in their image and identification, which requires more custom-made garments,” Pereira adds.
Demand for Skills
He says the demand for education in the South African work wear industry is paramount.
A general view within industry is that garments can be bought and sold without a proper understanding of the fabric features and specifications.
“The industry is severely under- estimated in terms of profes- sional skill requirements, and has not been provided with the high-standard fabric and manu- facturing knowledge that it requires.
“Capital investment, skills, industry knowledge and technical innovation are, now more than ever, required to maintain a continuous supply chain,” he adds.
Pereira believes the need for an increased focus on proper education and training, as well as good structures, has led to the biggest potential for growth in the industry lying within skills development.
With a fixed presence in both the South African and international market, Kit Group not only aims to expand locally, but also further into Africa.
“The opportunities in South Africa have not been exhausted yet,” Pereira notes.
Across the border, the com- pany is currently active in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Botswana.
However, he says expansion into Africa has to be executed with caution, considering the local political climate and logistics and delivery costs.
Further, finding the right partners that understand the industry also poses a challenge.
“We are looking for the right partnerships before we move further into Africa. However, to do this, we first have to motivate organic growth in our existing partnerships to strengthen our logistics and distribution structures. This will enable us to create new alliances in other Southern African Development Com- munity countries,” he says.
Cilliers adds that Kit Group also hopes to grow its market share in the corporate, security and safety industries.
“Ultimately, we do not just want to be leaders in these segments, but we would like to expand into other areas as well,” he says.