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Why East Africa Is A Leading Apparel And Textiles Manufacturing Hub - Explainer

The African textile and garment industry has been booming over the last few years due to its vast potential for growth among manufacturing countries. The textile industry on the continent is poised to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of more than 4% by 2027 (Mordor Intelligence, 2022). Furthermore, global demand for African textiles and apparel is expanding, and African patterns are becoming recognised as truly iconic pieces. International fashion brands are increasingly incorporating African themes into their latest collections. With a large number of workers and a substantial contribution to the national economy, the textile manufacturing sector is one of the most significant industries on the continent.

East Africa's Garment Manufacturing Potential

East Africa is rapidly becoming a global hub in garment and textile manufacturing. The rapid development of textile and garment-producing hubs in the region, combined with a strong demographic profile and expanding income growth, is boosting the region's clothing and footwear sector (Fitch Solutions, 2021).

Among countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda are of the most interest and have the potential to become more prominent players in Africa's garment manufacturing (McKinsey, 2015). Here are 3 key trends to note.

1. There Is An Ongoing Shift In Garment Production From Asia To Africa

East Africa is quickly becoming a textile and apparel manufacturing substitute for East Asia. Due to its low-cost labour, flexible working hours, and competitive labour-related tax structure, Ethiopia is the destination of choice for large-scale, labour-intensive sectors, including textile production. PVH, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and other international brands have established factories in Ethiopia.

Kenya has a greater level of production efficiency, with its garment industry specialising in high-volume bulk basics such as trousers. Kenya's export processing zones also have production contracts with top global fashion brands such as H&M and Calvin Klein.

The value of Rwanda's textile and apparel industry has also increased by 83% between 2018 and 2020. The expansion occurred despite the United States suspending duty-free status for Rwandan garment products under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2018 in response to Kigali's decision to impose taxes on second-hand clothing to protect the indigenous industry (Fibre2Fashion, 2022).

2. A Comparative Advantage In Cotton Growing

The East African region has a comparative advantage compared to Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, which have never been cotton-growing countries, yet have still built thriving garment export industries.

Currently, most East African countries' cotton lint is exported rather than used for local production. In Ethiopia, there have been efforts to increase domestic cotton production and the commercialisation of Bt cotton (genetically-modified, pest-resistant, plant-based cotton) was approved in 2018.

In Kenya, commercialised Bt cotton commenced in 2019. Also, in 2019, the East African Community (EAC) approved the final draft of the cotton, textile and apparel strategy (CTA), a strategy that aims to make the textile industry globally competitive and focuses on developing the value chain, which includes seed production, lint and production of garments.

3. The African Continental Free Trade Area Will Boost Regional Cooperation

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was ratified in May 2019, creating the largest trading bloc since the World Trade Organization's inception. The deal aims to eliminate trade barriers between African states with a combined population of more than 1.3 billion people and a combined GDP of USD 3.4 trillion.

The AfCFTA will strengthen the regional collaboration among East African cotton growers, ginners, and textile companies. East African finished textile goods firms will be able to grow more freely in other African markets. However, more logistics infrastructure and clarity regarding origin regulations endanger this trade union.

The Future Of Manufacturing In East Africa

A stable future depends on developing labour-intensive sectors like manufacturing, services and agriculture. Over the long term, a developing textile manufacturing base, regulatory improvements, a solid demographic profile, and favourable consumer outlooks will encourage domestic spending in East Africa's fashion retail sector.

As a result, East African household expenditure on apparel and footwear will beat the African and global averages during the next five years (Fitch Solutions, 2020). The textile and clothing industry also presents much potential for value-added benefits and job creation. It is estimated that up to 600% of value can be created along the cotton value chain: from cotton production, spinning and twisting into yarn, weaving and knitting into the fabric, followed by dying, printing and designing (AFDB, 2018).

By Sinmi Adesanya, Operations and Legal Coordinator at the Council for International African Fashion Education


  • Fashion Industry

  • Textiles

  • Garment Manufacturing


“Textile Industry Analysis, Overview, Report, Growth (2022 - 27)” (Textile Industry Analysis, Overview, Report, Growth (2022 - 27)) <>, “Rwanda’s Garment-Textile Exports Grow by 83% in 2 Years” (Rwanda’s garment-textile exports grow by 83% in 2 years - Fibre2Fashion, November 28, 2020) <>

“Clothing And Footwear Spending In East Africa To Outperform” (Clothing And Footwear Spending In East Africa To Outperform) <>

“East Africa: The next Hub for Apparel Sourcing?” (McKinsey & Company) <>

Bank Group AD, “Textile and Clothing Industries Can Drive Africa’s Industrialization, Benefit Women” (Banque africaine de développement - Bâtir aujourd’hui, une meilleure Afrique demain, January 25, 2019) <>

Image Credit: Foreign Policy


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