After fifty years in textiles KwaZulu-Natal-based Mediterra nean Textile Mill has made the bold move into manufacturing-recently it launched soccer supporter tees under its very own brand, AfriCan!

The Hammersdale Company, which employs about 400 staff, is one of the few vertical textile mills in the region. The main business of the company is to produce fabric suitable for apparel, made from a blend of polyester and viscose.

In 2007 Mediterranean Textile Mills invested R100 million in new equipment and ongoing investment has ensured it is one of the most modern plants in the country.

Owner Marcus Varoli said the move to diversify was born out of a number of reasons, including ad vanced systems of global outsourcing and stock management, and accelerated duty phase-down of textiles and garments coming into the country.

In addition, illegal imports and the under-invoicing of fabric and garments as well as the restrictive rules and regulations surrounding the labour laws and fluctuations within the exchange rate had led to the demise of the South African clothing and textile industry.

"The only opportunity for sur vival is for a textile mill such as ours to become vertical within the clothing and textile supply chain, so as to reach the consumer," said Varoli.

Company sales director Lindsay Meyer said for years the firm had made fabric, which positioned it at the back of the supply chain.

"However in recent times many of the clothing manufacturers we supply have closed down as their major clients, big retailers, have chosen to import clothing at lower prices rather than buy locally, in order; of course, to make their margins. "It always comes down to the price," he said.

Meyer said in an effort to keep their factory going they decided it was time to restructure production; a laudable approach considering that rather than retrenching staff (those 400 would at least have four dependants each) they found an alternative way to sustain business and the community around them.

"We chose the soccer supporter tees for our pilot project because we have heard so many people com plain about the high price of the of ficial shirts," said Meyer.

After reading Fifh's copyright guidelines on the web and being careful not to include '2010" on the shirts as well as adhering to other stringent rules such as the restriction on three green stripes on the shoulder (their shirts have two) the company ran-its design by their legal team, which gave it the go-ahead.

"We're confident that we haven't infringed on any copyright laws with our shirts and what's more we're proud of the fact that they are spun, knitted and made locally at

The project consisted of manufacturing 40 000 polyester T-shirts and 5 000 cotton ones. The cotton T-shirts are made from cotton grown in Africa, made into fabric and then T-shirts here. They carry the AfriCan! printed branding and South African flag.

Meyer said as polyester was difficult to source locally, they had bought the imported raw material and spun it into yarn at the Hammarsdale textiles plant. These T-shirts are embroidered and both lines carry space for specific company branding.

He said in mid-June Mediter ranean hoped to release hoodies and the overall plan was to produce about 30 000 garments a month for the first six months and ramp up thereafter.

"Our shirts are spun, knitted and made up in South Africa, and best of all they are at a lower price than the imported tees; proof we can do it here," he said.

Fashion Consultant Renato Palmi (of The ReDress Consultancy) says the exercise proves that the local fashion industry does indeed have the ability to get every thing done on home soil in a cost-effective manner.

"What's commendable is that the entire value chain is here and it's been done far cheaper than its imported, competitors," he said.

Palmi added that if they could make soccer T-shirts of this quality and at this rate there was no reason why they could not be successful with their commercial ranges.

"It also should, be sending a signal to consumers that as the World Cup is upon us we can support South Africas fashion, clothing and textile industries by purchasing these great designs at an affordable price.

"The South African Clothing and Textiles Workers Union has noted that many work opportunities have been lost through imports of World Cup products that could have been made locally, he said.

This was presented in The Mercury Network by Omeshnie Naidoo on 26th May 2010