A new approach for the textile sector

A new approach for the textile sector

Own Correspondent

ROMA-SEBABATSO Sentšo and Senate Mpaki at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub are bringing a new look to Lesotho’s textile industry.
Several things will separate their business to similar ones in the local markets.

“We are focusing on mass production and localisation of our products,” they say.
“And we have seen an opening in the market. That is why we are developing cushions, potholders, dishwasher cloths (lifatuku), swabs, napkins, curtains, table runners, table clothes, pencil cases and so on, in our catalogue.”

These are the things which few people, if any, are making in Lesotho.
To really understand the approach, these two ladies under the supervision of Papali Maqalika-Mokobori, you need to know a thing or two about Lesotho’s textile industry.

That industry will amaze you with its yawning gaps between the local small-scale producers and the mostly international large-scale producers.
Throw a stone randomly and you are likely to hit a very tiny clothing business, usually manned by one or two people in Lesotho.
And throw a stone at Ha-Thetsane or Maputsoe and you are likely to hit a Chinese or Taiwanese clothing factory hiring between 500 to 2 000 workers.
Why the difference?
Have you ever wondered why the foreign investors will use your factory shells, your machines and your people to make clothes and then ship the bulk of profits to their home countries?
“It is not as if Basotho can’t make quality textile products on a large scale,” Sebabatso and Senate said.
“It is that we have been content with the boitšokoli (hustling) approach, something our Chinese-Taiwanese brothers have long learned to throw out of the window.”
Here is an example.
Think of a Mosotho educated in textile science or fashion design from a local university.

When she graduates, she starts making very nice clothing items and begins taking orders.
What happens when orders pile up?
“We normally won’t hire anyone to assist,” they said, “rather, we work ourselves to death, to a point where more orders threaten, rather than strengthen, our businesses.”
That is a boitšokoli mentality.

Business growth is just not in the DNA of such approach to business.
Government officials and cheerleaders don’t help either.
“You must be self-employed,” they say.
One local school even prides itself on producing what it calls ‘self-employers.’

But the reality is, taxpayer’s money is spent to educate these folks so that they can employ both themselves and, for goodness’ sake, others.
When you were schooled in fashion design or textile science, your job is not so much to make clothing yourself as it is to design, supervise and even control quality of the products.

By all means, the sooner you let the unskilled people be the ones on the machines, the better.
“In line with this thinking, we are on the verge of introducing mass production, which we studied as students of BSc Consumer Science at NUL,” said the twosome.

In mass production, one person’s job is to install a zip, another one’s is to install a sleeve, and another one focuses on a pocket.
No single person is given the responsibility of making the whole item.

The two also say that after years of observation, they have also come to the conclusion that the local textile industry is focusing on clothing only.
“Yet in Lesotho, we buy all kinds of textile products from pillow cases to laptop bags, none of which are made in Lesotho.”
“Our mission is to enter that unchartered territory and try our luck,” they said.

As they make all these things, they think localising their products such that they have Basotho traditional or, at minimum, African feel, will work.
“If you visit India, you will find textiles that have an Indian feel. When you wear them, we associate you with India. Why can’t we have apparels that can be associated with Lesotho without losing their international appeal?” they inquired.

That is why they are exploring the application of Seshoeshoe and African print in their apparels.
The duo said they are forever grateful for exploring these options within the confines of the NUL Innovation Hub, which they describe as the “best place they could ever be in.”
Listen to their reasons.

“We have just talked about the importance of mass production that will help us to throw away the boitšokoli mentality. That is at the heart of the NUL Innovation Hub’s philosophy. We are made to understand that principle here, above anything else.”

They also think that access to their former teachers and access to laboratories while they are at the hub is super.
“When you are here, it’s like you are a student again, except that now you are a student who is constantly producing something. We can study our materials for their absorbance, durability, friction, flammability, water absorption, you name them.”

“Sometimes we are like, does our government understand what a transformational institution the NUL Innovation Hub really is in terms of its potential to create jobs?”
“If it does, then, why is it watching?”

Own Correspondent

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