If there’s anyone who can tell you all about initiatives, opportunities, and challenges in the West African textile and garments industry, it’s Fiona Coyne. She is the former Director of Sourcing for the Vlisco Group, and she will be a speaker at West Africa Connect. Get to know more about her in this interview!
Hi Fiona, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
“Sure, I can! Originally, I am from Scotland, but I have lived in many different countries. I studied law in the United Kingdom, followed by an MA in Chinese Language and Culture at Leiden University and an MBA from NIMBAS. At the Vlisco Group, I started as an interim manager and worked my way up to becoming the director of sourcing & CSR. I’ve got more than 15 years of executive/senior management experience, and my time at Vlisco gave me in-depth and expert knowledge of textiles sourcing and processing in Europe, Asia, and West Africa. I also played a key role in a multi-million-dollar project to establish a textile park in Nigeria, together with Asian investors.”
As the former director of sourcing & CSR of the Vlisco Group, can you tell us a bit about the company and your role there?
“Well, the Vlisco group designs, produces, and distributes African wax prints for the African market and of course African consumers all over the globe. As the sourcing director, I was responsible for the group sourcing of raw materials worldwide, as well as the development and execution of a compliant sourcing strategy. I was also responsible for supplier relations and managed the supply base. I also developed and implemented a corporate social investment policy for sourcing raw materials, which included setting up an audit-program to ensure compliance.”
Your talk will be about sustainability, opportunities, challenges, and initiatives in the West African Textile and Garments industry. Can you tell me how you have implemented sustainability initiatives during your time at Vlisco?
“I think the biggest step we took was switching to CmiA, Cotton made in Africa. This is an internationally recognized standard for sustainable African cotton, that commits to minimizing negative environmental impact while improving working and living conditions for the farmers. In a nutshell, CmiA focuses on helping farmers help themselves through the use of more effective, more environmentally friendly techniques. Before switching to CmiA, we never knew exactly where our cotton came from—afterwards, we did. To put things in perspective, the amount of cotton consumed by the Vlisco Group each year provides jobs for over 100,000 farmers and their workers, which I see as a great achievement.”
Do you see any interesting trends or developments in the West African textile and garment industry right now?
“I see that there is a huge potential in the West African textile and garments industry that is simply not being used – bear in mind that around 90% of the cotton from the area is exported. Unfortunately, many investors and companies see more risks than opportunities and are simply afraid of getting involved. There is nonetheless increasing pressure from various angles to start investing in West Africa, not least for the simple reason that alternatives are getting more expensive. Africa is a huge continent with a large amount of manpower and resources and is much closer to Europe than Asia in terms of transit. Nowadays, lots of consumers prefer local products and garments, so the African continent can really play a big role in filling that need. I mean, why import when you can produce at home? The right investors and companies need to be encouraged to partner with West Africa—the opportunities are definitely there!”
What was the biggest challenge you faced as the sourcing director at Vlisco?
“One of the biggest challenges was definitely the infrastructure! It can sometimes take a very long time to get cotton from one place to another, so the whole logistical aspect is problematic. Besides that, powering in West Africa is definitely a challenge, as modern processing calls for uninterrupted power 24/7. These are challenges one must be aware of, but luckily there are many investors busy improving the infrastructure. Progress is slow, but we are getting there!”