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Nigeria should be the preferred emerging hub for production and global export of quality, says Oreofe Akinkugbe

Oreofe Adetutu Akinkugbe


Oreofe Adetutu Akinkugbe is the founder and director of Clothing 360 Organisation, a registered Not-for-profit, Non-Governmental Organisation, which was founded to stimulate concerted effort to organise and develop Nigeria’s Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry, and by extension, the country’s cotton, textile and garment (CTG) value chain. She is an innovative strategist, effective project coordinator and a brand experience professional. For over 15 years, Oreofe has nurtured a career in these three roles. She has broad ranging experience covering privatisation, transaction monitoring and evaluation, market and industry research, project development, planning and implementation, business planning, marketing strategy formulation and marketing planning, customer experience management, brand experience building, and multi-media content production. She has worked for the Bureau of Public Enterprises, CPCS Transcom and the Royal Bank of Scotland. She also served as an independent consultant with the Niger State Government, Vlisco Netherlands and a number of other organisations in the private sector. In the last eight years, she has acquired valuable experience in the areas of company startups, corporate restructuring and rebranding, capacity building and empowerment initiatives, as well as specialised organisational change management programmes. She spoke with Kikelola Oyebola on Nigeria’s Cotton, Textile and Garment (CTG) value chain, the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry and their potentials to grow the nation’s economy.

What prompted your interest in Nigeria’s Ready-Made Garment industry? How did it all start?
My journey into the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) world began in 2006. From the very outset, a tour of and documentary on Aba has always been top on my mind. But with the situation in that part of the country then, I couldn’t pursue this desire.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to meet and discuss with industrial development experts, as well as others, who had visited the city. I thought the combined knowledge and experience of these people sufficed. So, going to Aba was no longer priority for me.

Then, a EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS invited me to make a keynote presentation at the EU Niger-Delta/Rivers Investors’ Seminar held on March 6 2017 in Port Harcourt. The presentation was on: “Using the RMG industry to Lead Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) of Nigeria’s Cotton, Textile and Garment (CTG) value chain”. At the end of the programme, the EU team again requested that I joined them the next day on a trip to Aba. So, the next morning, we headed out.

While on the road, I argued with another participant, telling him I had read study reports on Aba and had discussed severally with some industrial development experts about the city. I said I had all the information I needed on Aba and didn’t think there was anything new to discover. He tried to convince me otherwise, that I could not grasp the truth about the city, until I saw the markets and clusters with my own eyes. And really, at the end of our tour, I went to him and admitted he couldn’t be more right.

So, what were your experiences in Aba?
The sights, the sounds, the people; my goodness! There were shops after shops, with piles of shoes and clothes all made in Aba or ‘Made in Nigeria’. The people were not deterred by the quality of their products, which is some notches lower than the international standard. There were also stores after stores, with piles of fabrics and accessories, among others. And though these were also grades lower than international standards, it did not deter Aba people from continuing with their production. Immediately we arrived, we had a town hall meeting with the State’s Association of Fashion Designers and Tailors, as well as the Association of Leather and Shoe Producers. Their faces were beaming with excitement and enthusiasm. Their energy and zeal filled the hall and were palpable. We all caught it!

The meeting was fruitful, and gave me an insight into a lot of things. Meaningful discussions were held, as presidents of the two Associations stated their challenges and needs, which included poor infrastructure, high cost of power and doing business generally, among others. Head of EU Delegation to Nigeria, Ambassador Arrion, explained the EU-West Africa Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and its benefits. He told them that EPA will enable Nigerian textile and garment manufacturers export to the EU, duty and quota free, while Nigeria will be allowed to impose duties on similar products imported from the EU. This means Nigeria will protect its industry and still have free access to the EU.EU Head of Trade and Economics, Mr. Filippo Amato, also explained that EPA would improve the so-called rules of origin, by making it much easier to consider a garment as “Made in Nigeria” for exporting duty-free to the EU.

In my speech, I stressed the need to improve their product quality to meet the export market’s stringent quality standards, without which they cannot take advantage of trade deals, such as the EPA. Immediately after the town hall meeting, we toured the popular Aba garment, leather and shoe clusters.
Our first stop was at a one-storey building that somewhat functioned as a garment “factory”. Here, they were making jackets and uniforms. And though unorganised, there were men and women performing various tasks. Those on the first floor all came out to the balcony and stared down at us. Those on the ground floor surrounded us. They were all filled with excitement, as though their long-awaited hope had arrived.

There were clusters of small petrol generators in the building. When we came out and continued on the streets, similar generators were everywhere and in every corner, blaring and pumping out smoke with no one caring. There were men, young and old, busy working in small shops. The shops were lined up one after the other. Some sold fabrics, some accessories, while others sewed. Music blasted from one of the fabric shops and Ambassador Arrion started a dancing competition with the shop owner, right on the streets of Aba garment cluster!

There were gutters everywhere with most of them dirty and smelly. The roads were muddy, even though it was the dry season. One could only imagine what it would be like, when the rains come. All the traders and entrepreneurs came out to the streets and on their balconies to catch a glimpse of the tall white men, who came with an entourage to visit their decrepit cluster.We also visited a two-storey dressmaking “factory” – it was more of a workshop by international standards. Then we proceeded to the leather and shoe cluster.

Indeed, Aba is Nigeria’s launch pad to becoming the preferred emerging hub for production and global export of quality affordable Ready-Made Garments (RMG). Aba garment, leather and shoe clusters are like a goldmine waiting to be exploited!
The people, men and women both young and old, their entrepreneurial spirit, their energy, their zeal, their doggedness and determination to succeed despite the harsh economic environment and incredibly high cost of doing business was palpable. Through the hardship, they all found a way to keep on going – to keep on walking like Johnnie Walker! All I can say is, Aba, I doff my hat to you!

What precisely is Clothing 360 all about?
Clothing 360 was founded to stimulate concerted effort to organise and develop Nigeria’s Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry, and by extension the country’s Cotton, Textile and Garment (CTG) value chain. Clothing, particularly RMG, is one of three necessities of every human being. The RMG industry alone delivers, on a massive scale, on some key factors that shape and drive an economy. These factors include but are not limited to industrialisation, revenue, employment and enterprise creation.

Given best practices in the global RMG industry, we at Clothing 360 are advocating for Nigeria to use the RMG industry to lead the linkage and Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) of the country’s CTG value chain. Nigeria has huge untapped comparative advantage in the entire CTG value chain. What is lacking is a competitive advantage. With the comparative advantage, Clothing 360 believes Nigeria should be THE preferred emerging hub for production and global export of quality affordable RMG. Our dream is to see “Made in Nigeria” RMG sold in clothing retail stores in Nigeria and across the world, especially in stores of popular global retail giants.

What do you hope to achieve in the long run?
Our belief and dream are our organisation’s vision. But one organisation or stakeholder cannot achieve this vision. Neither can the public nor private sectors working separately. Realising this vision requires a concerted effort and collective actions of all CTG value chain stakeholders. So, to achieve our vision, we have articulated a viable and innovative strategy and implementation plan. These involve using the RMG industry to lead the linkage and ISID of the country’s CTG value chain.

Our strategy and implementation plan are structured into our focus areas. Specifically, the implementation plan adopts a holistic and fast-tracked approach that will enable the CTG value chain gain global competitive advantage in the medium term – less than five years, tentatively from 2017 to 2022. The approach will also enable the value chain to start delivering robust national outcomes and impacts early in this period.

ISID of Nigeria’s entire CTG value chain will rapidly create badly needed jobs and inclusive and sustainable growth across the country. It will also boost shared prosperity. Other outcomes and impacts include contributing to economic growth and trade competitiveness, diversified export base and increased domestic and export revenue. All these lead to a rapid turnaround of Nigeria’s economic crisis.

What are the major differences between the fashion industry and the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry?
The fashion industry is not the same as the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry. They are separate industries but interdependent. Both industries are huge sources of revenue and jobs, particularly the RMG industry, which generates massive foreign revenue and jobs that are inclusive and sustainable.
Nigeria has both a fashion industry and an RMG industry. However, due to some reasons, Nigeria’s fashion industry is developed and vibrant, while its RMG industry is grossly underdeveloped, underproductive and unorganised. In Nigeria, clothing is synonymous with fashion. This has been the situation for decades, as the fashion industry is believed to be the only industry involved in clothing. To add to this, much of the fashion industry’s focus is on making African print into a global fashion.There are two main sides of garment making – the industrial side and the fashion side. The RMG industry is focused on the industrial side of garment making, while the fashion industry is focused on the fashion side.

Generally, the industrial side of garment making involves production of garments with simple designs in garment factories – small to large scale. It involves garment making skills set and professional expertise for operating or working in a garment factory. It also involves managing the garment production supply chain – from sourcing raw materials and inputs to production in the factory, and finally retailing in stores.

The fashion side of garment making involves the creative, design, construction and style aspects of garment production, particularly the design, which is often complex. It involves the study and business of garments or “fashion” design. It also involves the complementary products and services that go with garments, such as shoes, bags, hair and makeup, photography and merchandising, among others. Other areas of the fashion side include, setting trends in garment design, style and complementary products and services.

In this article:
Oreofe Adetutu Akinkugbe
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