Thika Clothing Mills seeks to revive local textile industry

Auto Coro Machine

The new Auto Coro Machine, installed in 2022, is used for spinning cotton.

Photo credit: Pool

Secondhand clothes, or mitumba, as they are popularly known, cloth a big percentage of Kenyans and their families, who consider them not only affordable but also available.

While used clothes sell from as low as Sh50, a new outfit made in Kenya may cost above Sh1, 000. With a majority of Kenyans making do with less than a dollar a day, such an amount is beyond their reach. 

This factor has helped drive up demand for used clothes in the country, relegating locally-made clothes to the back of the queue, in the process killing the local textile industry whose clothes are considered much more expensive.

Kenya’s clothing industry, which once employed thousands of people, is now on its knees. Dwindling sales in the face of secondhand clothes meant that most businesses could not sustain their operations, forcing them to close down or scale down.

To revive the ailing sector, the government introduced an initiative dubbed ‘Buy Kenya, Build Kenya’ in 2017 to promote local manufacturing sectors, including the textile industry. To put their money where their mouth was, civil servants were encouraged to wear locally-made clothes on Fridays.

Thika Cloth Mills, which is one of the biggest textile players in the country, having been in operation for over 60 years, sought to capture this opportunity. 

Woo farmers

The company, in conjunction with the government, has embarked on an initiative to woo farmers to invest in cotton farming. The company supports the farmers by supplying them with seeds and other farm inputs.

The firm’s Processing Manager, Dickson Kinuthia, says that they are currently working with about 20,000 small-scale farmers in Coast, Eastern and Western regions to improve production.

“We have signed contracts with cooperatives and farmers to buy cotton at Sh52 a kilo, which is directly helping the farmers,” he says, adding, “Three kilos of cotton produce one kilo of lint after ginning, which involves removal of seeds and debris. The remaining balance of two kilos is seed that is used to produce animal feed and oil which benefits the ginners.”

Workers at the Thika Cloth Mills.

The company’s factory in Thika.

Photo credit: Pool

With cotton volumes in the country expected to rise, the firm has invested Sh601.7 million ($5 million) on new machinery in the last two years. This is augmented with a workforce of about 700 employees.

Kinuthia explains that the company will be in a position to employ more Kenyans if the state limits textile imports.

The business supplies school uniforms, industrial fabrics, bedsheets, curtains, promotional materials, kitenge and leso or kanga for various institutions.

“We do our manufacturing in Thika’s industrial area though our head office and sales office is based on Second Avenue, Parklands. We also have a sales office in Kakamega County,” he adds.

With the ‘Buy Kenya, Build Kenya’ initiative in mind, they source most of their raw materials in Kenya, though they import blending fibres.

“Cotton is produced in various areas of our country, but the production is not enough to sustain our production, therefore we import from neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia,” explains Kinuthia.

Quality of fabrics

The company credits its longevity to the quality of fabrics they produce. With textile production being a big consumer of electricity, the company has invested in alternative energy sources such as biomass and solar, which are more affordable in the long run. 

They have invested in a biomass boiler that converts waste materials such as coffee, cashew nuts and macadamia husks into a source of energy.

“The final pricing of the company’s products is based on the inputs, and one of the highest costs we incur during production is the electricity we consume since our machines are driven by it,” explains the processing manager. 

He calls on the government to reevaluate the cost of power tariffs since it would reduce the cost of production and uplift the manufacturing industry in the country.

The business has also been keen to not only invest in skilled workers but also develop new talent. 

It does this by absorbing graduates from tertiary institutions as well as universities in the fields of engineering, clothing technology and accounts.

“The future of textile manufacturing in Kenya is bright, Kenyan businesses can produce all the textile required in this country, but for this to happen, the government needs to first support the industry,” he adds.

Kenya’s cotton production increased by 16 per cent last year due to better quality seeds, a new report shows. 

Data by the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) shows that cotton production increased from 3,015 tons in 2019 to 3,495 tons in 2020 despite a 45 per cent drop in the area under crop while farmers planted cotton in 9, 9987 hectares of land in 2020, down from 18,000 hectares the previous year.

 Bt Cotton

The State, in 2020, distributed 24 tons of superior Hybrid Bt Cotton seeds for planting by farmers on about 10,000 acres.

“It was during the season that the ban on the commercialisation of Bt Cotton was lifted by the National Environment Management Authority,” the report further says.

The average price of cotton seed per kilo tumbled to Sh38 in 2020 from Sh52 in 2019, prompting renegotiations between growers and processors for a deal of Sh48 a kilo.

“The prices for Western and Coastal regions were re-negotiated by stakeholders from the earlier agreed upon Sh52 per kilo to Sh48 due to shocks in international prices (at approximately Sh38 per kilo) arising from an oversupply of cotton in the international market,” the AFA report states.

Sticking with a price of Sh52 per kilo of seed cotton would have resulted in the country’s cotton being highly uncompetitive.

“The harvesting of seed cotton in these areas (Western and Coastal) coincided with the oversupply in the international market. This glut had been occasioned by massive closure of textile and garment factories in most of the leading cotton producing countries due to Covid– 19 pandemic.”

Siaya led with hectares under cultivation at 1,940 followed by Kitui 1,600, Homa Bay (1,383), Busia (1,237), and Makueni (1,000).

Areas with the least acreage were Isiolo (five), Muranga (eight), Kirinyaga (12), Kakamega (32), Migori (40), and Elgeyo Marakwet (41).

The report notes that the drop in production was due to heavy rains and floods in Nyanza and Western regions, coupled with the late delivery of superior seed.

 Thika Clothing Mills is now eyeing the African market under the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), as well as America under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.


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