Profit-making idea: Supplying zippers and buttons to Ethiopian clothing manufacturers

There is an unexploited opportunity for businesspeople and investors to provide trims, such as buttons and zippers, to Ethiopian apparel manufacturers.

The Ethiopian Investment Commission has a strategy to turn the country into a light manufacturing hub for Africa. A major component of this plan is the creation of industrial parks dotted all over the country, with each park having a specific cluster or sector focus. Out of the nine parks currently in operation, five have a focus on textile and apparel manufacturing.

“This market is still untapped,” says Bethelhem Dejene, CEO and co-founder of Zafree Paper (a wood-free paper pulp manufacturing company situated in the industrial park in Debre Berhan). “You don’t see a lot of button or zipper manufacturers. There is a need for the related materials required for textile manufacturing,” she says.

According to the Ethiopia Textile and Clothing Value Chain Roadmap, a report prepared by the International Trade Centre, many of the inputs for apparel manufacturing in the country are still being imported. Sector experts pointed out that there is potential for foreign investors to produce accessories and embellishments such as thread, labels, hangtags, buttons, zippers and elastics. Historically China has been the biggest international supplier of these products into the country. Dyestuffs, agrichemicals (for cotton production), finishing/processing chemicals, man-made fibre, wool and machinery are also still being imported to a large extent.

“I have close friends who are working on providing solutions for this gap in the market,” Bethelhem says. “Even with textiles, we make the end product, but many of the raw materials are being imported.”

According to Bethelhem, Ethiopia’s business environment is improving. “Yes, there is bureaucracy, but you can get past that. Policies are changing. These initial hurdles are a small part of your whole business. Trust me, if you get into the market now, you are going to make a lot of money,” she says.