University of Delaware invests in South Africa’s sustainable textiles industry

By mahlokoane percy ngwato

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In a bid to improve South Africa’s flagging textile industry, the University of Delaware’s Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies is investing $20 million in a bid to make the industry more competitive, whilst minimising its environmental impact.

After the apartheid regime fell and international sanctions along with it, South Africa was flooded with cheap foreign imports, driving maany of those who couldn't compete out of business.    

The fund will establish what will be known as the Southern African Sustainable Textile and Apparel Cluster, which will focus on reducing the carbon footprint associated with every aspect of the supply chain, from field to retail.

The University of Delaware established the UD Sustainable Apparel Initiative in 2008, in an effort to pioneer environmental and social responsibility in the textiles industry on a global scale.

Experts and graduate students from the department have been offering their research expertise in order to advance the project, collecting data on labour standards, environmental practices, and supply chain operations. They will also be looking at the chain from a global perspective and monitoring the environmental impact of imported materials.

Marsha Dickson, Professor of Human Services and head of the fashion department said: “The goal of the competitiveness grant is to allow whatever is implemented to continue and thrive after we leave, so there’s a need to develop domestic expertise at universities there.”

The researchers noted that the strong trade union presence in South Africa enabled them to collect labour data easily, as well as to approach the issue itself with relative ease.

The University of Delaware funding an expertise could very well be exactly what the South African textile industry needs in order to compete at a global level; as businesses are increasingly finding, making a considered effort to save the environment often results in saving money in the long term. 

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