Apparel manufacturers from China, South Korea, India and other countries are lured to open new plants in the continent’s second most populous nation Ethiopia which is fast developing into a dynamic apparel sourcing hub and with growing number of European and US brands sourcing garments there. A significant factor in Ethiopia’s emergence on the clothing scene is the planned opening of a new railway line to a port in neighboring Djibouti, located on the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea. The railway will facilitate transport of goods from the landlocked country’s industrial areas, like the Bole Lemi Industrial Park, an hour’s drive from the capital Addis Ababa.

Opened in 2015, the sprawling 150-hectare park is bustling with Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean production facilities, conveniently clustering factories for textiles, apparel products and leather shoes in one area. At a factory operated by Shin Textile Solutions, a South Korean company, workers sit at long rows of machines sewing mainly sportswear. According to the General Manager, the plant’s entire output is exported, with about 60 per cent going to Europe, 20 per cent to the US and the remainder to Asia.

Japan’s Fast Retailing, which manufactures and sells casual clothes under the Uniqlo brand, is among the many apparel makers that have shown interest in the plant, the Manager said. Arkebe Oqubay, special adviser to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, has pledged to transform Ethiopia from a farm economy into an industrial powerhouse. As part of its efforts to turn the country into a thriving, middle income economy by 2025, the government has been building industrial parks. The newest is Hawassa Industrial Park. Among the 15 companies with manufacturing facilities there is PVH, a US apparel company which produces garments for a number of international brands including Calvin Klein, then exports them to Europe and the US PVH has work force of around 280 to produce garments.