Over the past eight years the Lesotho apparel industry has moved from being a marginal contributor to the economy to become a globally-integrated industry assembling garments for some of the best-known brands in the world. This growth has been built on the preferential trade opportunities created by the US Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA) and a partnership between the government and the private sector to take advantage of this market. Most of the investment is from Southeast Asian entrepreneurs, mainly from Taiwan, although South African companies are now investing and are providing much needed diversity of markets and products.
Lesotho's textile and garment industry employs more than 40 000 mainly women workers. It is the largest formal employer in the country, surpassing even the public service. The country's footwear industry employs just over 2000 workers.
The Lesotho government engages with industry through an inter-ministerial task team to deal with issues affecting the industry. Proactive engagement by the government includes improving the business environment, investment promotion campaigns and enhancing investment incentives and tax concessions. The Lesotho government has reduced the corporate manufacturing tax rate from 15% to 0% for firms that export product outside of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and to 10% for those that sell products within SACU.
Textile and Garment Cluster
Lesotho factories compete with each other to get orders, but they also work co-operatively to form a "cluster" that offers a full range of services.
Many of Lesotho's garment companies are subsidiaries of larger global textile and garment manufacturing corporations with manufacturing operations throughout the globe. There are approximately 40 factories specialising in both woven and knit garments. The wovens include denim garments such as jeans, chinos corduroys, skirts, constructed trousers and jackets. The knit garments are mainly shirts, polo shirts, tracksuits, sweat shirts and fleece, as well as a growing range of other garments including industrial and office/formal wear. These are produced in 100% cotton, polycottons and synthetic fabric. Two commission garment screen printers, two embroidery firms and a stand-alone laundry support the industry. Some garment firms have in-house embroidery, screen-printing, heat-transfer processes, and laundry and garment finishing facilities.
The Formosa denim mill (investment of more than US$100 million) uses African cotton to make 1.3 million yards of denim fabric a year, and 900 tons of cotton and cotton blend yarns, which are suitable to make knit fabrics.
There is a range of sector activities that feed into the industry such as the packaging industry, road freight transport, courier services, clearing & forwarding agents, security etc.
Trade and Exports
The Lesotho industry is one of the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is the largest Sub-Saharan African exporter of garments to the US. About 80% of Lesotho's textile and garment exports go to the US and exports to the US for 2008 amounted to US$340 million.
Lesotho is now exporting growing volumes to destinations in the European Union, Canada and South Africa. As a least developed country, Lesotho products are extended preferential access to the United States, as well as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and Canadian marketplaces.
South African retailers are the next biggest purchaser of Lesotho made garments. Its third largest customer is Canada (US$7.2m in 2007); followed by EU retailers (€1.85m in 2008). Smaller volumes also go to member states of the EU, Dubai, Qatar, Chile, Japan and Taiwan.
Lesotho's denim mill also exports denim fabric to Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Jordon , Kenya, Egypt, Madagascar and Mauritius, while it sells significant volumes of ring spun yarn to regional textile mills.