Dusting off the industry depression
A CLOTHING company in a niche market has risen above the depression in SA's clothing sector to grow locally and offshore.
Sweet-Orr & Lybro, based in the Elsies River industrial area in Cape Town, has not only managed to remain profitable but also to grow exports to about 10% of sales.
The clothing manufacturer, which makes protective clothing and leisurewear, has been operating since 1931, and has grown to what sales director Vernon Naidoo believes is the biggest protective clothing manufacturer in SA. The leisure division makes high-quality clothing, and Woolworths is the major client.
Naidoo says exports are relatively small but growing rapidly.
Sweet-Orr & Lybro has two divisions, one being protective clothing like overalls and dust coats. These are exported to Germany and the Middle East. Leisurewear, which is a fairly large facility, exports to Germany and is in talks with a US enterprise.
Naidoo says growth is a result of the company taking a larger share of a shrinking market. "This is mainly because we are doing exports and because we are a very reliable supplier, and have built our reputation on the slogan 'we never let you down'."
Naidoo says 99% of the 673-strong work force is from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and 75% of the voting equity is in black hands, including Naidoo, production director John Jacobs and a private equity fund.
Exports are an important focus for the company. Naidoo has just left for Australia as part of a Department of Trade and Industry mission. He says the moves offshore are partly to grow and create jobs, and partly to follow clients who are going international.