Mohamed Kassem (Destination Africa) on the impact of the pandemic and the textile industry in Eygypt
After organizing its last physical edition in 2019, shortly before the pandemic, the professional textile trade show Destination Africa was held once again in Cairo, on November 19 and 20. Armed with renewed energy and with the challenge of creating synergies between African countries and positioning Egypt as the industry's sourcing destination, the show brought together 135 international buyers at the Royal Maxim Palace Kempinski. FashionNetwork.com interviewed its director and one of the most important figures of the Egyptian textile industry, Mohamed Kassem, to get his insight on the matter.
FashionNetwork.com: What is the current status of Destination Africa and the Egyptian textile industry? Are there opportunities to attract international production to Egypt?
Mohamed Kassem: When we founded this fair a few years ago, we wanted to create a platform for Egyptian and African textile companies to position themselves in the international market. Egypt has a privileged geographical location, in the North-East of the continent, with easy access to other markets and attractive duty free policies. Our country is in a very good position to be considered as a hub and capital of such an important industry.
Moreover, given the current level of development of the African continent, I think that the textile industry is essential, because it creates many jobs and attracts foreign currency. It is a sector that is easy to enter, that adapts to the current state of African countries, which have great difficulty in entering other sectors such as technology, for example. If we look back, textiles have always been at the heart of revolutions and industrial progress. It is therefore a vital sector for all developing countries, and is the main reason for creating the Destination Africa platform.
FNW: How has the pandemic affected the fair's growth and has it recovered?
M.K: We had to put the project on hold two years ago due to the pandemic and it was a tough period. But now I think the feedback, in terms of the show's organization, exhibitors and buyers, is very encouraging. Seventy percent of the buyers who came this year were first-time visitors, and some new countries also participated, such as Lesotho and Ethiopia. I think next year, the overall momentum will be slightly better. But the truth is that, after two years of absence, we are extremely satisfied and happy to have been able to get back on track. We hope that things will continue to evolve positively.
FNW: How has Covid-19 impacted the Egyptian and African industry?
M.K: The pandemic has destabilized the entire world. It forced people to take time to think about how they do things and to better understand the consequences of globalization. In its early days, globalization allowed for faster international movement, but in the case of the textile industry, it created an excessively long supply chain. The pandemic has forced all markets to imagine new ways of sourcing, taking into account the need to be able to respond in a timely manner or to react to changes and contingencies. Egypt, Africa and South America now have clear advantages for the future and this is a very positive spin-off.
FNW: Is this impact already affecting the domestic market?
M.K: Of course. New buyers are turning to Egypt, and those who were already working with our country are starting to diversify their purchases. For example, Polo Ralph Lauren is one of my clients and had only been buying denim from me for ten years. Last year, we started developing women's suits and shirts. We had to convince them of the quality of our work for years before they started to buy other products from us. It was Covid-19 that changed the game and made them consider diversifying their sourcing in Egypt. Buyers are enthusiastic and attracted by this diversity. This is the first time we have hosted 20 Russian buyers and the feedback has been very positive. Diversification is a great opportunity for the continent.
FNW: What are the products most sought after by buyers? Which ones represent an opportunity?
M.K: I believe that each country, each brand has its own specificities and comes with its own buying needs. The major advantage of this show is that we offer a complete overview of what we can offer to satisfy buyers according to what they are looking for. Every one of them can find just what they need: from denim to suits, from sleepwear to home textiles.
FNW: Where are Egypt's main textile exports currently heading?
MK: Today, about 50% of our exports go to the United States. The other half goes to Europe.
FNW: What countries are your main competitors?
M.K: At the moment, I am not too worried about the competition. For example, Turkey is not one of our direct competitors because of its proximity to European markets and its more complete supply chain. Some of our investors are Turkish or Korean. It is not only a question of profits but also of considering the country's advantageous position, location, access to markets... There are many variables that affect how we do business. The price of the products is no longer the only issue.
FNW: One of the main challenges of the last pre-pandemic edition was to build an African textile community in order to be more competitive internationally. How is this synergy-building project coming along?
M.K: Our job is a little easier now than it was a few years ago for the reasons I mentioned before. We have found that international markets have become more receptive and it is less difficult for us to win them over than it was in the past. Regarding African alliances, things are evolving favorably. The African market is very large, but we represent only a fraction of global demand. Therefore, we have a lot of room for growth. There is no conflict between individual countries, but rather synergies to grow as a global player.
FNW: This edition took place at the same time as the closing of COP27. What are your thoughts on sustainability in the textile industry? How do companies deal with the investment required to make this transition demanded by the brands?
M.K: Respect for the environment is very important nowadays. If you think back to the fight against child labor or forced labor, you realize that these are relatively recent struggles. At the beginning, progress was difficult, mainly because it involved costs. Nowadays, there is a real demand for sustainable processes and environmentally friendly approaches. In the short to medium term, things will fall into place and it will become a requirement that will eventually be imposed globally. Some will be quicker than others to adapt, but we already have sustainable approaches that promote recycling and upcycling. Right now, it's a more upscale positioning, because we're going from $5 T-shirts to $30 pieces. But we have to keep in mind that everything comes at a price and society will eventually adapt because demand for sustainable garments and fabrics is real.
FNW: How are banks and investors sponsoring the continent?
M.K: For this fair, we have benefited from the support of African Export-Import Bank as well as other important banks in Egypt that collaborate with Expolink. The financial institutions are more and more interested in our projects.
FNW: Is there enough support to help accelerate projects?
M.K: It always depends on demand. When the demand is high, everybody wants to participate and have their share of the pie.
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