At Africa Fashion Guide our focus is to highlight and promote the full supply chain of Africa’s fashion and textiles industry. We see this as a solution to development issues and increasing employment and economies in many African countries. One of our favourite manufacturers in Africa, specifically in Tanzania is Mantis World/Sunflag and the woman in charge of this operation is Prama Bhardwaj.
We have met on various occasions now, talks we both attended or spoke at, events on African fashion and manufacturing and I plan one day soon to visit her factory operations in Arusha, Tanzania. Every time I meet with Prama I am encouraged by her. What I always admire about her is not just her professionalism, her strong business conduct or just her in-depth knowledge of African fashion, textiles and trade but above all as a fellow female in this field it has to be her vision for her business. At AFG we have a lot of respect for Prama and her work in Africa, in particular with Mantis World in Tanzania and as you know we decided to work with their tees as our slogan tees for the Africa Fashion Guide African Cotton Campaign.
We chose Mantis World as it is a reputable company with a base in Tanzania, East Africa and produces and supplies basic tees, vests, hoodies etc for base style products ready for print and logo applications. In 2005, they launched their ‘Tender Loving Clothing’ (TLC) clothing range made entirely from 100% organic cotton which is grown and produced exclusively in Tanzania. This range has styles for everyone; women, men, kids and babies are all catered for and we felt it was suitable for our campaign being grown and sewn in Africa by Africans.
So let us introduce you to Prama Bhardwaj to tell us a bit more about her work and what it is really like for her company manufacturing in Africa
AFG – So for those who don’t know too much about you and your work please tell us about how you started this business and exactly what you do.
Prama: Mantis World is a supplier of ethically sourced clothing for adults, kids and babies. Launched in 2000 we work primarily with our family owned vertical mill in Tanzania employing over 2000 workers and offer a fully transparent supply chain certified by GOTS, compliant with BSCI and recently SA:8000 certified. We also source from other regions but operate on the same criteria of sustainability and transparency.
Mantis World work alongside fashion brands and garment suppliers turning designs into finished garments – either through custom manufacturing or using an extensive stock range of “blank” garments which can be re-labelled, printed and decorated. Our mission is to consistently deliver the best product whilst leading by honest example – without compromise to people, our ethics or environment.
AFG – What were some of the challenges you faced in setting up this business?
Prama: When we first started, people thought green or ethical clothing was confined to a small niche of well-meaning but un-commercial hippy types. It was hard to be taken seriously talking about sustainability with large corporate customers. So we focused on talking about our fantastic product and personal service – which remain the cornerstones of our success.
Today it is very different. Everyone along the chain now realises that sustainability issues must be grasped and discussed. Most serious players, and most importantly, big buyers with a lot of power in the market are taking sustainability very seriously. This will pull the entire supply chain along too.
We’ve always believed that to be sustainable as a business in the long run, you must take care of the environment and the people around you.
AFG – We understand that you don’t only source/produce in Tanzania, Africa. Where else do you source/produce and why did you choose to branch out to other regions and countries?
Prama: When we started our manufacturing in Tanzania, we thought our transparent and responsible manufacturing came as standard everywhere. As the business grew, we started to look at other fabrics and finishes that were not possible in Tanzania and were surprised to find that ethical manufacturing is not the norm. We decided to introduce our code of conduct and only work with factories that were prepared to meet our standards.
We want to show that ethical manufacturing is possible everywhere.
Today we work with factories in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey. This year, for the first time, we are producing Organic Cotton styles outside of Tanzania as we continue our commitment to increasing the usage of Organic Cotton.
AFG: How relevant is it to the local community for your business to be in Tanzania? What local impact does it have if it does?
Our factory in Arusha Tanzania, employs 2000 people.
It is one of the biggest private employers in the region. A lot of our employees are local women who otherwise would be unable to find work and we train them in the skills needed such as sewing, QC, etc. The salary is higher than the average for the region and the factory also supplies food support, health clinic, and a sympathetic workplace. Additionally we are supporting 120 local children in a children’s home and school for disadvantaged children. Having a large factory means there are of course many ancillary industries that we support and can thrive as a result.
AFG: What demand do you find for made in Africa product? Do you feel there is room in the marketplace for made in Africa (made in Ghana, made in Kenya etc labels) is it desirable enough?
Prama: We have seen increasing demand over the years for ‘Made in Africa’ garments. I think there is a certain feel-good factor with the term, it is a positive message from a continent all too often depicted in a negative way, dependent on outside help. We have a “Made in Africa” tag on our garments and it definitely draws people in.
AFG: It is definitely a crowd puller – I personally love it! So where would you say the majority of your customers come from? Africa or Europe?
Prama: Most of our customers are European and they love the quality of the garments. Our factory is also a major supplier for the East African and South African regions.
AFG: Would you be interested in being part of a sourcing guide for Africa?
AFG: We will definitely keep you posted. But even greater news that I heard was about the new accreditation that you received for Mantis World. Could you elaborate on this and what it means for your business?
Prama: Our factory in Tanzania after months of hard work was recently awarded SA:8000 certification. This is one of the highest levels of social certification and verifies the working conditions, safety and record-keeping of the factory.
AFG: Fantastic! Please explain to our readers about why is this so important?
Prama: We are very proud of this achievement as it adds further credibility that volume manufacturing in Africa can be ethical. It will give our customers further peace of mind that what we say has been documented, backed up and independently verified.
Most importantly SA8000 means we must pay a “living wage” (very different from a minimum wage).
As no one had calculated what a living wage in Arusha would be we decided to do it ourselves and found that the cost of living is much higher than we had expected – mostly due to food prices. Immediately we raised salaries and it showed us how important it is to measure something. Only then can you make the right and informed decision.
AFG: Is it simple to obtain and could other African businesses obtain it? If not why?
Prama: It is not easy to obtain and took months of hard work. We had 4 auditors from all over the world spend a week going through every department from spinning to CMT with a fine toothcomb. So it also took a lot of management hours. However SA8000 is the latest step on a journey we started on a long time ago. Having started with less onerous standards and certificates, we learned along the way and our successes propelled us on to take it further.
It is definitely attainable and a great achievement for any business. Perhaps for African businesses who are not vertical it would be simpler. For example it is much easier to have an ethical, safe and environmentally responsible CMT department when no one is checking how the fabric is dyed. That is why we are so proud at our factory as every single step in the manufacturing process has been certified.
AFG: Congratulations on this. It is definitely an achievement and a positive for African manufacturing. So for 2012 what other plans do you have for Mantis World?
Prama: We are experiencing strong growth in our adult range and also our Bespoke Production service. People are beginning to realize that ethical, responsible production doesn’t have to cost the earth and it can hold it’s own in terms of design and quality. Our Organic range is continuing to grow and this year we have launched new fashion styles and more colours to the range.
The fact the garments are organic and ethical is a bonus.
AFG: Lastly we want to know who is behind this admirable company. Could you tell our readers an interesting thing most people don’t know about you?
Prama: My other job is being a Zumba instructor in Zanzibar.
Wow. This lady has some energy! Love it. Maybe we will be seeing a Zumba range from Mantis World too…thats an idea.
Author and Interviewer: Jacqueline Shaw