From riches to rags, textile company remain optimistic
Tonota based textile factory, B&M Garments (Pty) Ltd, a vertically integrated t-shirt manufacturing company with its own knitting and dyeing facilities, remains optimistic despite seeing profits crumble like a flimsy raincoat in recent years.
Boasting a sister company in Mauritius, the firm was set up in 2000 courtesy of the then Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority (BEDIA) in their spirited Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) drive.
In their formative years, B&M Garments was hailed as a success story, employing 800 people in their first six years of existence. Today the staff complement stands at 150.
“At the time, we were making 200, 000 t-shirts a month. That’s 10, 000 t-shirts a day,” reflects Managing Director Krishna Chinniah ruefully.
Today, half of the machines at the impressive factory are not running and the company is struggling to reach 2, 000 daily orders needed to cover production costs.
“Remember, when we started we had the USA and the UK markets which we lost due to competition. Our prices were no longer competitive,” adds Chinniah with a nostalgic sigh.
Forced to rethink its strategy, the company turned its focus on the regional market, which included Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“We had initially tried the local market but we could not compete with the imports that were coming into the country,” he explains.
The B&M MD says exporting to South Africa also had its challenges as they were now competing with other SADC states such as Madagascar, Lesotho, and Swaziland.
Their main challenge was that while operational costs were sky high in Botswana, their competitors enjoyed subsidised services from their respective governments.
“There’s very little support coming from the government, and with a tariff increase for both water and electricity and the recent adjustment of VAT to 14 percent our textile prices are five percent higher than our SADC competitors,” laments Chinniah.
Citing Lesotho as an example, he is adamant it only takes political will to change the industry’s fading fortunes.
“15 years ago, when the industry was booming in Botswana, a delegation from Lesotho came here for benchmarking. Today, Lesotho textile industry employs over 30, 000 people because they enjoy a lot of subsidies from the government which helps to lower their operational costs.”
In contrast, Chinniah notes that locally the industry now employs less than 10, 000 people.
“For B&M Garments to be able to cover costs we need to produce at least 2, 000 t-shirts a day, but where will the orders come from if our products are expensive?” he asks rhetorically.
Despite all these challenges, Chinniah is optimistic the glory days will return and his company will export to the lucrative UK and USA markets and once again employ hundreds of Batswana.
“It may not be 800 employees, but I believe we can employ at least 400, with a bit of support!” he states with fierce conviction.
Hailing the Francistown First initiative by Tafic Sporting Club, Chinnia says following the domino effect caused by the closure of Tati Mine and Botswana Meat Commission abattoir, Francistowners deserve a break.
“I love the idea. We need excitement back in this city. We need our people to realise that they’re an integral part of the city’s economy!
“All is not lost. We still supply some shops in towns such as Jet, Mr. Price, CB Stores, and we get support from the likes of Haskins and private schools. Go to any of these shops and look for a Made in Botswana garment. It was made right here in Tonota,” he concludes with a proud, hopeful smile.