H&M scouts out potential suppliers in South Africa

A customer is photographed outside the H&M shop at a mall in Midrand outside Johannesburg, South Africa, April 28,2016.REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – H&M is looking at South Africa as a potential supplier, with executives from the world’s second largest clothing retailer visiting some of the country’s main cities this week.

South Africa’s government helped to broker the H&M visit as part of efforts to boost the textile sector which has been hit hard by Chinese clothing imports that led to factory closures and thousands of job losses.

H&M faced protests in South Africa in January this year over an advert which featured a black child wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle.”

H&M apologised for the ad and removed it from its marketing.

“Following their apology … we have proposed that they atone very practically by sourcing goods from South Africa,” Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Economic Development, said in a speech on May 10.

Amelia-May Woudstra, H&M spokeswoman in South Africa, said company executives would visit Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, but that the assessment, which would consider partnerships with local suppliers, was still in its early stages.

“We have started with an assessment of South Africa as a potential sourcing market,” she said.

H&M, which has 18 stores in South Africa, currently imports all its clothing into the country, so a decision to produce clothes locally would be a big boost for the domestic textile industry, which competes with rivals such as Ethiopia and Swaziland.

“If H&M were to source garments in South Africa, it would be a huge vote of confidence in the sector. We definitely have the capacity locally to supply them and it can be turned on particularly quickly with basic commodity items such as underwear,” a textile industry source said.

The source said discussions were also underway with Australian no-frills chain Cotton On and Zara, the world’s biggest fashion retailer owned by Inditex, to source products locally.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf. Editing by Jane Merriman)