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Solutions: Rebuilding SA’s devastated cotton industry

Africa has long grappled with how its textile and garment industry was ravaged by cheap Chinese imports, devastating farmers and local businesses. 

SA was particularly hard hit after it opened up to trade with China in the late nineties. 

Retailers built their profits off cheap Chinese fabric, driving local cotton producers out of business and decimating the industry. In the 1990s, South Africa produced almost 80,000 tonnes of cotton lint. By 2012 that number had decreased by 90%, Business Insider reports. The Chinese started manufacturing low-quality textiles with indigenous African patterns that were sold at low prices, driving the real deal out of business. 

Now major fashion retailers such as Mr Price, Foschini and Truworths are part of the solution, and are investing in small-scale local cotton farmers. 

It is a bitter pill to swallow for some activists, who note these retailers were responsible for the country’s once-thriving cotton industry falling apart. 

At a recent event on the issue, Natasja Ambrosio, the head of sustainable value chain for cotton at the Mr Price Group, vowed to do better.

“Yes, retail has to… acknowledge that it was part of the decisions that were made in the past that impacted the industry significantly,” said Ambrosio.

She said the majority of Mr Price’s procurement had shifted to Africa in recent years, with up to 75% of some of Mr Price’s businesses relying solely on local production. 

It’s a long overdue solution. Here’s to consumers like us who have pushed for more sustainable fashion in our purchasing choices. Let’s keep up the fight. ✊

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