Drapers explores Morocco’s bid to the become the next sourcing hub for fast fashion.
The global sourcing map is being redrawn. As rising costs and concerns over compliance begin to bite in China and Bangladesh, newer markets, such as Myanmar and Vietnam, are vying to become the next big sourcing heavyweights. However, the need for an increasingly fast, flexible and reactive supply chain is leading many retailers to investigate markets considerably closer to UK shores.
Morocco is poised to take advantage of this shift. Accessible from the UK and much of Europe in the relatively short flight time of three and a half hours, the north African country has a clothing and textiles sector that prides itself on speed, and has expertise in denim, wovens and knitwear. It is also jostling to become a sourcing hub for Europe’s fast fashion industry, taking advantage of its geographical location. Morocco is already a key sourcing market, along with Portugal and Turkey, for Spanish giant Inditex, which is renowned for its ability to get trend-led product into stores quickly.
Morocco’s focus on fast fashion was evident at the latest edition of sourcing show Maroc in Mode, which took place in Marrakech on 27-28 October and showcased the nation’s manufacturers. Many of the show’s 128 exhibitors specialise in fast fashion and supply brands in the Inditex Group, including Pull & Bear, Zara and Bershka.
The textile and clothing industry is an important one for Morocco. It employs 183,000 people, representing 26% of the country’s industrial jobs, and produces 1.1 billion garments every year. The Moroccan government and the Association Morocaine des Industries du Textile et de l’Habillement (AMITH), which represents the nation’s fashion manufacturers and hosts the trade show, plan to enlarge the sector still further. As part of an ambitious strategy to build the industry up by 100,000 employees and €500m (£440m) by 2020, leading Moroccan manufacturers have been chosen to act as what AMITH refers to as “locomotives”, guiding and advising smaller companies on how to modernise and improve production capabilities.
Morocco is the solution for producing fast fashion
Mohamed Laghmouchi, Nova Moda II
The sector has also been divided into a series of specialist areas known as “eco-systems”, which include fast fashion, knitwear and denim. Each area has a different focus – denim, for example, has been set the task of creating 14,800 new jobs by 2020.
Mohamed Laghmouchi is the managing director of Tangier-based woven and knitwear specialist Nova Moda II, which works with Zara and its premium counterpart, Massimo Dutti. Exhibiting at Maroc in Mode, he argues that Morocco’s proximity to Europe makes it particularly well suited to the fast fashion market: “Morocco is the solution for producing fast fashion. Many of the customers I speak to are currently working in Asia and China, but are increasingly worried about lead times, which are just too long. The real problem for them is the waiting time to get the product.”
Mohamed Tazi, director general of AMITH, also believes geography will help to promote Morocco in the eyes of European retailers: “The Moroccan clothing export sector will continue to benefit in 2018 and 2019 because of deep changes facing clothing retailers. Many are caught between two business models: those who are very reactive, such as Inditex, and those who can compete on value, such as Primark. Other brands, which don’t fall into those two models and have to adapt, are seeking to increase proximity sourcing in a bid to keep up and mitigate the risks facing their businesses. It allows retailers to order the right quantities of the right product.”
Proximity is not the only competitive advantage providing a boost to Moroccan manufacturing. Turkey was once the near-sourcing market of choice for many British and European retailers, driven by its abundance of raw materials, short lead times and expertise. However, political instability in the country, which last summer led to some retailers cancelling sourcing trips because of safety concerns, has helped to give Morocco an edge.
AMITH’s Tazi is keen to stress that Morocco is not basing its strategy for the sourcing sector on another country’s misfortune, but admits that it has helped: “Retailers don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket, and they are exploring alternatives.”
German etailer Zalando was among the European businesses spotted at Maroc in Mode.
Katie-Anne Allabarton, a buyer for Z Label, Zalando’s own-label division, says: “We were looking at Morocco anyway, but we do also have a lot of production in Turkey, where there is some instability. The Far East also doesn’t have the price advantages that it used to. We don’t currently produce anything in Morocco – we came on a bit of a fact-finding and information-gathering mission to see what was here.”
Proximity is an advantage, but it’s not the only one
Jalil Rais, Marisa
Fellow Z Label buyer Michael Hansell adds that Morocco’s proximity is a key factor: “We have to be able to react really quickly to trends and to what’s happening in the wider market.”
But local manufacturers emphasise that there is more to Moroccan sourcing than speed. As Jalil Rais, director of Marisa, which supplies Sandro and Paul Smith, says: “Proximity is an advantage, but it’s not the only one: lots of countries are near Europe and most of the world can be reached easily by plane now.” Instead, he points to technical expertise: “There’s a lot of know-how in Morocco. The quality of the product is good, as is the level of social compliance, which is very important for UK retailers.
“Also, Asia and China are not the same Asia and China as 10 years ago, particularly when it comes to price.”
The minimum monthly salary in Morocco is between €260 and €300 (£229-£264) – considerably higher than Vietnam, where minimum wage levels are set to rise by 6.5% to VND2.76m-VND3.98m (£92.10-£133) next year. The minimum wage in China varies dramatically by region, ranging from RMB2,030 (£230) in Shenzhen, the most highly paid province, and RMB1,160 (£132) in Heilongjiang, the lowest.
“A lot of my clients are exploring moving production away from China, often because it’s just too expensive to get people out there [to visit factories],” confirms Máire Morris, director of Morris Fashion Consultancy, which advises premium brands on sourcing and manufacturing, and who was also at the show. However, she argues that Moroccan manufacturing is not always of the highest standard: “Having been to Maroc in Mode to see what it was possible to do in Morocco, I’m not sure the quality is there for my clients, because they tend to be near the top of the market.”
Morocco has ambitious plans to become a global sourcing hub specialising in fast fashion and denim. Its proximity to the UK is a key advantage as retailers continue to move towards near-sourcing, but the country also needs to offer high-quality product to rival the sector’s leaders.
Moroccan manufacturing by numbers
183,000 people employed in the Moroccan textile industry
100,000 more by 2020
1.1 billion garments produced each year
128 exhibitors at Maroc in Mode
1,779 visitors to Maroc in Mode
Employs 200 people
Up to 50,000 products made a month
Key partners Solid & Striped, Sofibella
Product specialism Swimwear, sportswear and underwear
Swimwear, sportswear and underwear specialist Rectangle, founded in 1990, is one of the manufacturers benefiting from international interest in Moroccan sourcing. Key clients include premium swimwear brand Solid & Striped, which is stocked in the UK by Matchesfashion and Net-a-Porter, and US activewear brand Sofibella. Rectangle employs 200 people at its factory in Marrakech and can produce up to 50,000 products each month. Employees are trained to be multi-disciplinary, allowing them to work across a number of different functions, depending on which skills are most needed.
“In the past couple of years, we have seen more European retailers expressing an interest in sourcing from Morocco, particularly as prices in Asia have increased,” explains president Michèle Duperrin. “There’s a lot of know-how and experience in the Moroccan market, so it’s easier to find qualified people who can do the job you want than it might be in other countries. We can also produce at a competitive price, which is another advantage.”