“Green manufacturing” and export to Northern EU countries highlighted as key opportunities
Last month, The Netherlands Enterprise Agency concluded its 3-year long program entitled “Creating a sustainable denim industry in Morocco” with a round table discussion led by program partner Forward in Fashion. The event was attended by local and international industry stakeholders (AMITH, MODINT, IAF, ZDHC, Wolkat, Kuyichi) as well as local and international governmental organizations: CBI (Netherlands Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries, part of The Netherlands Enterprise Agency), Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and SIPPO (Swiss Trade Promotion Programme).
The program was designed to strengthen the denim industry in Morocco and to support local denim-related companies on their journey towards sustainable growth.
The negative impact that the apparel industry has on our environment is well known and increased consumer consciousness has led to a shift in expectations, not only with regard to the protection of the environment but also with regard to workers’ rights.
Sustainability has become the number one topic among industry stakeholders and observers alike. As a fast-changing, truly global industry, apparel manufacturing faces a great challenge when it comes to standardizing- and monitoring methods for issues such as reducing environmental impact and increasing transparency. This remains an international challenge.
The Dutch government wants to support this change through initiatives such as the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile, and on-the-ground projects targeted at achieving meaningful change within the industry.
The Morocco Denim program received a great deal of interest locally and, as a result, it was decided to expand the scope to include Moroccan manufacturers of non-denim product groups.
Serge Léon and Giovanni Beatrice from Forward in Fashion, commissioned by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, provided sustainability-related training and guidance to twenty Moroccan companies (manufacturers and washing facilities) as well as to sixteen students from two fashion universities in The Netherlands and Morocco. Eleven Moroccan companies participated in a matchmaking event organized during the program by RVO and Forward in Fashion.
The program was actively supported by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Rabat, the Moroccan Trade Association (AMITH) and the Moroccan Denim and Fashion Cluster (MDFC).
Roadmaps for change
A sector-specific roadmap planning tool, developed together with other Dutch stakeholders, was used during the course of the program. This tool facilitated an in-depth understanding of the supply chain of participating companies, including their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, in relation to a range of topics under three main categories:
- CSR & Sustainability
- Sales & marketing
- Design & innovation
The tool consisted of three extensive questionnaires – one per category – which were completed by the participating companies.
Combined, the responses to the questionnaires helped to establish a baseline for each participant and to identify sector challenges. From this, areas for improvement were identified and tailor-made action plans (roadmaps) were developed for each individual company participating in the program, against which results were measured.
One of the key elements of the program was preparing the industry for a sustainable future. It was therefore deemed essential that the program included participants from the “next generation” of apparel industry talent.
To this end, a student contest was organized which involved sixteen participating students from ROC (Netherlands) and ESITH (Morocco). The students were divided into eight teams of two (one from each country) and each team was challenged to transform a bestselling pair of jeans from an EU brand into a more sustainable garment.
The contest not only allowed the students to increase their knowledge of sustainable design through practical exercise, it also gave them the opportunity to gain valuable insights into working with different cultures.
The RVO program culminated with a successful matchmaking event during which eleven participants from Morocco were connected with eighteen well-established European importers from the Netherlands, Norway and Germany.
The event helped participants to understand the Northern-European market requirements and visualise the opportunities that investment in sustainable practices provides for business growth. As a result of the event, the participants were more motivated to implement the necessary improvements in order to improve their sustainability record and market themselves accordingly.
Results and next steps
Most of the participating companies had never had the opportunity to evaluate their CSR performance from the buyer’s perspective.
The roadmap plan is a powerful tool in the creation and implementation of a successful market entry strategy. During the program, it enabled the various parties to work together to establish an individual baseline CSR standard and an action plan outlining the practical steps and measurable, realistic goals needed to meet Northern European buyers’ legal and non-legal requirements. Participating companies were able to understand which improvements were needed (and why) and to visualize results. The roadmaps were developed together with the participating companies, which reinforced their commitment to implementing change.
As well as highlighting the potential of the Northern European market, the program helped to increase the Moroccan manufacturers’ understanding of the future of sustainable apparel manufacturing, including the importance of implementing “green manufacturing” throughout the Moroccan apparel value chain. Some participating companies have invested in washing equipment/ facilities to reduce water, chemical and energy consumption. Others have focused specifically on Sales & Marketing, improving their branding around sustainability. One company established a partnership with Wolkat (a Dutch circular textile company established in Morocco).
Finally, the program helped to improve the Health and Safety conditions of all the participants’ wet processing facilities. During the round table event, and as a result of the program’s success, plans were announced for a 4-5-year follow-up program led by CBI (Netherlands Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries) which will focus on sustainable manufacturing, CSR and sales & marketing within the context of building exports to Northern Europe.