Getting Namibian Clothing onto Retail Shelves

By: Rukee Kaakunga

It’s been 27 years since the independence of Namibia but to date, the country is filled with a majority of South African clothing retailers. Local clothing designers and manufacturers continue to find it hard to find retail space in the mostly foreign owned malls and thus a majority forced to sell mainly from their homes.

In 2016, while South African retailers faced financial troubles leading at times to liquidation – as in the case of Stutterfords -Namibia’s highly anticipated Retail Charter was launched. This charter lays out targets and principles that are meant to ensure greater access into the retail market for Namibians. This Charter however is not a guarantee of shelf space as it is voluntary and it’s propositions are not enforceable by law.

Additionally, producers can be offered the retail space only by meeting certain requirements. “There are many challenges, two of which are the knowledge of what it would take to list one’s goods in retail shops as well as the issue of economies of scale”, says Maria Immanuel, a Namibian expert on international and local retail. The issue of economies of scale pertains to the ability to supply enough product to provide adequate stock for major retailers’ shelves and frankly, many Namibian clothing producers are unable to.

CEO of the Namibian Trade Forum (NTF), Ndiitah Nghipondoka-Robiati says that it’s important to understand the role that branding plays in the retail sector as well as the high cost of manufacturing which retailers constantly try to cut on. “One of the things that I have learnt is that the clothing and apparel industry runs on brands, and the retailers promote their brands. Where the clothes are made is immaterial as long as they are branded accordingly. That is why you wear the jeans you do, the shoe brand you chose etc. The competition for manufacturing of clothing and apparel is very very tight and the margins are very low. The money is made further up in the value chain through the branding of the items.” She goes on to stress the need for building Namibian brands that will be able to compete in this regard. “What we need to work on is developing Namibian brands that will be attractive to the retailers, however these are still very few and far in between. The Charter tries to address this through the Marketing and Visibility pillar, however we are still working on the best model to implement this. I hope that this makes it easier to understand that there is an entire infrastructure that needs to be in place in order for brands to be manufactured in Namibia and then retailed in the various retail outlets.”

Cred: Henry van Rooi

Immanuel says that clothing producers and particularly fashion designers have to become creative in order to make their garments accessible to the market. She points out the Young Designer’s Emporium in South Africa as a good solution to the problem of getting access to store space to sell their clothing. “Something like that is not only good for the designer but also for the buyer who will is looking for local clothing that is unique and of a limited edition,” Immanuel says. Other important avenues are online platforms which some young fashion brands are taking advantage of.

Creating an enabling environment

Immanuel also notes that it will take collaboration of both the private and public sectors to create an environment that allows for local clothing producers to get access to retail space. “Government needs to promote the charter and also overcome challenges faced by manufacturers such as technical understanding, requirements etc. There is a need to develop targeted supply development programs and to expose Namibian designers through training etc. The private sector can assist in funding this through enterprise,” she says.

David Namalenga, Director of local clothing manufacturers Dinapama, says that the problem in Namibia is not the lack of access to retail space, but rather the mindset of locals. “Namibians must be prepared to understand that a change of mindsets is needed, we also need to start realizing that this is our own fault,” he says. He points out that despite his company’s expertise in clothing manufacturing, there are still corporate and government entities who prefer to source corporate wear from elsewhere. We need to start supporting local manufacturers and understand that failing to buy locally made products is robbing the country of the benefits of employment creation. Dressed in an official shirt made in the company’s factory, Namalenga stresses that clothing made by locals it at often times no different from that which comes from elsewhere.

There is Still Hope

One of the biggest success stories of a Namibian fashion brand making great strides in the retail sector is My Republik. Namibian owned under Leap Holdings, Namibian produced and run 100% by Namibians The company is the only fully Namibian fashion retailer to be housed in a major shopping malls. Launched in 2014, the shop has began at the Grove Mall and has since added retail locations in Swakopmund and Kigali, Rwanda. It is proof that not only can Namibian clothing brands make it into major shopping malls, but they can compete with other brands as it is now proven that there is a market for local brands.

While the Retail Charter was initially met with some skepticism, South African retailers have warmed up to having a dialogue. “We have had several engagements with the National Federation of Clothing Retailers of South Africa and they have been very fruitful. We are working together with them to develop the score card for the clothing and apparel working group … The idea is to see how it is that we can enhance and develop the capabilities of the Namibian manufactures to be able to meet the requirements of the major retailers,” NTF’s Nghipondoka-Robiati says.

With the dialogue open, there remains hope that one day, Namibian clothing will finally be a common sight in major retailers.



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