In April 2020, Apparel Manufacturing Group, a Rwandan women-owned textiles company, successfully imported two containers of fabric from India. The fabric originally intended for the production of men’s shirts and women’s dresses is now being used to produce over 4,000,000 face masks for the Rwandan market.
East African women-owned businesses in the tailoring, garmenting and fashion sector face many challenges. Chief among these is the difficulty of consistently sourcing quality inputs at the right volumes and at affordable prices. To address sourcing gaps, ITC’s Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) initiative in partnership with the India International Textile Machinery Exhibitions Society (India ITME Society) organized targeted business-to-business meetings for women-owned textile businesses in Mumbai in December 2019. Eleven representatives of business and fashion sector associations from Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda attended the meetings, which took place on the occasion of India ITME Society’s 40th anniversary celebrations. These businesses are supported by SITA’s women-focused initiative, the Mitreeki East Africa-India Partnership.
Apparel Manufacturing Group (AMG), Rwanda, was one of the companies in attendance at the business-to-business meetings. Established at the beginning of 2019 in partnership with the Private Sector Federation, Apparel Manufacturing Group is an umbrella entity bringing together 42 smaller women-owned tailoring and textile businesses. These 42 companies provide employment to over 300 people. Apparel Manufacturing Group was established in response to the government’s “Made-in- Rwanda” policy to boost local textile production. The government also took the step of banning imports of second hand clothing in 2018.
Formerly a public health official, Ms. Diane Mukasahaha, President of Apparel Manufacturing Group, said that she began by mentoring one or two women in her own home. Her initial idea had been to form a support group for low-income women who faced health challenges. The group slowly started growing and members began learning skills in garmenting and tailoring. Eventually, the group began receiving orders for their products, and Ms. Mukasahaha, too started her own children’s clothing line.
Ms. Mukasahaha said, “I was very happy with the business-to- business meetings in Mumbai. It was a good opportunity to connect with quality buyers who offered products at the affordable prices. I had travelled to Calcutta some months before to source fabrics but without success.” After identifying the right supplier in Mumbai, further travel was required between Kigali and Mumbai to pick exact fabrics.
Speaking at ITME India’s 40th anniversary celebrations as Guest-of-Honour, ITC’s Executive Director, Ms. Dorothy Tembo said, “I am thankful to the exposure and trade linkages that eleven young women entrepreneurs from East Africa, have gained through their participation at the B2B meetings organized yesterday jointly by our respective organizations. On your 40th birthday you (India ITME Society) have served the cause of women’s economic empowerment which is a key determinant, towards achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030.”
In total, Apparel Manufacturing Group ordered four containers of fabric worth $225,000 from their Indian supplier. Two containers are still on their way to Rwanda, and the company is hoping to order two more containers. Plans for the fabric have changed with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. In line with the government’s recommendation for all Rwandans to wear face masks in public, Apparel Manufacturing Group has undertaken to produce cloth face masks, as a government of Rwanda approved manufacturer of personal protective equipment. Working around the clock, the company has so far used the fabric to produce 4,000,000 masks, priced at $0.60 per piece.