Anton Poplett is the Business Development Manager for Africa for Gelvenor Performance Fabrics in South Africa is a man with a big vision for Africa. He has a heart to make an impact on fabric supplies in Africa and to support Africa fashion and textile production.
Gelvenor was established in 1965 as Gelderman and Zonen and Grosvenor Holdings for the weaving of linings fabrics. It is a strong leader in the textile industry and produced NYLON PARACHUTE FABRICS in 1967, MEDICAL FABRICS in 1993, AIRBAG FABRICS in 2001 and OUTDOOR ADVENTUREWEAR – Airotec – 2006 to name a few.
As a definite global player with world class manufacturing capabilities, South Africa’s leading textile manufacturing, Gelvenor, employs 375 people who operate the plant on a continuous basis for 48 weeks of the year. Training and staff development is a management priority and can they produce 18 000 000m2 of fabric per year. Their facilities includes
Warping and Sizing, Weaving, Dyeing, Finishing and Coating. They strategically seek out niche market areas to establish Gelvenor as a leader in technologically advanced fabrics. Currently 81% of production is in technical products
Dedicated to excellence in research, development, production and service to their local and international customers they follow a customer driven continuous improvement philosophy. This includes a focus on environmental issues too including SO 14001 management system, waste minimization, recycling of waste, effluent treatment plant, a water recycling project under way and employee training in environmental issues.
They presently produce a variety of fabrics and garments including high performance fire resistant and military textiles designed for use as accessories and made-up articles that will spend their lives in the outdoors. The performance standards have been drawn from the marine, military markets to ensure high performance under all circumstances. They also make workwear and uniform fabrics as well as school uniforms – pants, skirts, blazers etc and tracksuits. These fabrics are designed for long term use and the standards have been drawn from their customers in the market within Africa.
I personally find all this very impressive and the type of company you would expect from Asia but I am very pleased that it is done in Africa and felt it was a company that we should promote and bring to your awareness. So I contacted Anton who I have been speaking with for a few months now to ask him a bit more about the company in relation to the bigger story of garment manufacturing and sourcing in Africa.
AFG – Please tell us about yourself and your background in relation to African fashion and textiles.
Anton – I have been working in Africa for several years. In 2004 I worked for Scovill Fasteners based in Cape Town and looked after US and EU brands that had production facilities in Africa. I moved from the European office to the US office, supporting Kenya, Mauritius, Lesotho, Swaziland etc. After this I worked for a Mauritian based company, still pursuing my drive into Africa. Like everyone, I love Cape Town which I call home.
AFG – Describe Gelvenor – what type of products you produce and the set up of the factory.
Anton - Gelvenor Textiles (www.gelvenor.com) are primarily filament weavers, doing piece dying (no prints) and finishing and they produce high performance fabrics,.The company produces specialised fabrics for school wear, Ballistic, military and police end uses, uniforms, workwear, medical & aeronautical markets and obviously a lot of other bits and pieces that go into the manufacturing process.
AFG – Do you source the fabrics in Africa or externally?
Anton – Not for Gelvenor, we primarily want to produce ourselves but the raw materials are externally sourced. However if a client is asking for something we can’t provide then yes I will pass the contacts on. I am always happy to help an African company in a joint venture with Gelvenor.
AFG – Is Africa an option for sourcing?
Anton – Yes, but mainly in cotton
AFG – Who are the main clients of Gelvenor and which nations do you manufacture for?
Anton – I support all countries in Africa, except North Africa (Tunisia and Libya ). I generally deal with large manufacturers in these country. Guys that produce military and police uniforms, workwear etc.
AFG – You have a lot of experience working throughout Africa. What has been your experience specifically working with African clients?
Anton – I love working in Africa! They are always happy to work with us and they are always on the lookout for opportunities to further their business. If they produce workwear, for example, I love being able to open doors for them, and to provide backup for whatever areas they want to start working in. This works well for both parties, and often provides the platform for diversification. In production most challenges are produced by fabric construction technicalities and performance as opposed to the actual garment construction.
AFG – Do you see much potential in Africa’s fashion and textile industry?
Anton – Oh yes, it’s growing regularly and at a strong rate. It’s a tough question to answer though, as every country has different levels I could say. West Africa is vastly different to East Africa for example. One has oil and the other doesn’t, believe it or not this plays a massive role in many ways, as to the working of the country. Here Gelvenor has had to up it’s game – we are simplifying our website and providing “robust” fabrics that better suit African needs than the traditional inexpensive PC twill. I have just put the phone down from a manufacturer in Lagos, who wants fabrics in bright colours – we are lab matching the colours to Gelvenor fabrics and producing the order. Why import from China with longer lead times when Gelvenor can offer a speedy turnaround delivery from time of order ?
AFG – We agree! So As a sourcing region of fashion manufacturing and textiles do you see any challenges for sourcing from the African continent?
Anton – Logistics is an issue, and on a larger scale educating people away from buying on price. In most cases the manufacturers get a tender or order on garments, and buy whatever they can – whether it’s the right product or not. For example they buy the sampling from the local wholesaler who can’t support the bulk needs. My MD and I did a presentation to the Botswana Bureau of Standards a few weeks back. We were the only company allowed in to do this. The object of this exercise was to educate the local manufacturers, and to show them the range of products we manufacture for specific end uses. And importantly to prove Gelvenor’s quality and performance standards in important areas such as colour continuity and fabric durability. As an example, I was recently in a middle African country and happened to be driving past a turnout of uniformed policemen I could see the fading of their new uniforms . On enquiring as to the age of the uniforms I was told that all the interns had registered at the same time and yet the shading of the uniforms was quite uneven. This is something we would not expect to happen to a performance fabric engineered to face these sort of climatic conditions.
AFG – How important is sustainability and ethical fashion to your work?
Anton – Gelvenor has by its track record over the last 4 decades proved that it remains an ethical and sustainable manufacturer. Fashion remains a modest part of our business.
AFG – What accreditations does Gelvenor have at present?
Anton – wow where should I start? I will answer that differently. We provide Global standards on fabrics, We are committed to furthering our green image. We have ISO certification both 14001 and 9002, JS16949, SABS Manufacturing Capability, and are members of PIA .
AFG – What differences do you see with the textile industry in South Africa in comparison to other countries in Africa such as Nigeria, Kenya, through to Lesotho, Madagascar to the Angola and more?
Anton – This is a big question, as each country has their own mission. There is some production in Kenya & Nigeria. The rest pretty much buy in fabrics from wherever they can source it. Madagascar, Kenya and Lesotho are big exporters so they source their fabrics from the East and India generally. Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda for example want to provide the raw materials for themselves. I am currently chatting with companies in West Africa and I really want to help the local manufacturers to support the local market.
AFG – This is very true and very admirable of your desires and we hope to see that happen too. So do tell us what plans do you have for the future within Africa and the fashion industry?
Anton – Da Gama (www.dagama.co.za) and Gelvenor are driving all sorts of things right now. Da Gama produce African prints and complement our ranges accordingly. The fashions and textile shows are a must. Right now, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and SA are the most common producers of these shows. Tunisia has shows, but more on core products and manufacturing. We want to provide fabrics and knowledge to further our penetration into these markets – as easy as that.
(stay connected to see our upcoming feature on De Gama)
AFG – Is the marketplace in Africa just for the small-scale designer or for the larger companies?
Anton – There are a large number of designers in Africa making really good, functional, great looking items that make sense compared to some of the non suitable stuff coming out of the US and EU (sorry to say – well not really, go Africa!). I firmly believe, given the backup, that there could be a great start to areas.
AFG – What would you say to anyone who wishes to source their collections in Africa? How would you recommend they go about it?
Anton – Get out there and ask questions. In the main hubs around Africa (Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa) you can search things via the net. The Africa Fashion Guide provides some of this aid and it’s all about who you know. I didn’t get to where I am by sitting waiting for a knock on my door. Although we produce fabrics, I help buyers with manufacturers around Africa depending on what they want. This has become an important side of our business because of things like AGOA.
AFG – Any other points you wish to add?
Anton – My people – there are African companies that are eager and capable of supplying pretty much anything given half the chance. Garments don’t need to be knocked off and definitely don’t think you are unable to do certain things until you try. I am always available, and remember, this is not China and we are local. To my knowledge Gelvenor (www.gelvenor.com) and Da Gama are the only companies that fly into Africa to supply fabrics and our research shows this is where the growth is. Fabrics are easily sourced through companies like us.
Well there you go. Get out there, ask questions and try. It seems Anton flies the flag for African production and is proof that it can happen even with the challenges.
If you have a large or small-scale manufacturing unit and wish to be featured on our site then do contact us to discuss.