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Kenya can capitalize on the textiles and apparels sector to solve unemployment

The textiles and apparels sector has been identified as a priority sector by the Kenyan Government. Its prominence in the manufacturing pillar under the Big 4 Agenda and the Kenya Industrial Transformation Program is a manifestation of its soft spot in the government’s thought processes. But why should the government concentrate on growing the textiles and apparels manufacturing sector?

The textiles and apparels sector is the most labour intensive sectors of the manufacturing industry. According to the Human Development Index (HDI) 2017, Kenya has an unemployment rate of 39.1per cent. This large number of unemployed people is a ticking time bomb whose blast is due to create adverse social and political effects in the country.

The textiles and apparels sector has the ability to create a large number of employment opportunities within a short duration of time. The development of sector’s farm – fashion value chain presents the country with immense opportunities in cotton farming, textile mills and apparels/fashion industry. A fully developed value chain has the capacity to employ about 10 per cent of the country’s population. Additionally, cotton farming and apparels manufacturing are very labour intensive; thus being a source of much needed employment opportunities. The value chain is also an important driver of inclusivity as it employs women in excess of 60 per cent.

The textiles and apparels sector is currently a critical foreign exchange earner in the manufacturing industry. Kenya as at now is the largest exporter of apparels under AGOA with about sh35 billion worth of exports in 2017. With the changes in the global apparels sourcing supply chain in the world, Kenya has been able to attract a substantial number of world buyers and these figures can grow when we enhance our competitiveness and diversify our markets. Kenya can borrow best practices from Bangladesh, a rising giant exporter of textiles and apparels.  Bangladesh exports about US$33 billion worth of apparels to the world. US$6 billion of these exports are to the United States while about US$27 billion are to the European Union and the rest of the world.

Putting these figures into perspective, Bangladesh’s textiles and apparels exports are about sh700 billion higher than Kenya’s 2017 National Budget. Secondly, Bangladesh exports performed about 18 times better than Kenya in the US market in spite of the fact that Kenya enjoys duty free access to the US market which is not the case with Bangladesh. Thirdly, Bangladesh performs very well in the European market, in spite of the fact that both Kenya and Bangladesh have duty free access to that market.

The textiles and apparels sector has historically been the pioneer industry that drives industrialization around the world. An analysis of major international companies illustrates this as many of them started out with operations in the textiles and apparels sector value chain. The situation is not different in Kenya as many of Kenya’s top companies have their genesis in the textiles and apparels sector. The growth of the value chain in Kenya will translate to more players in the manufacturing space and who will ultimately diversify into other manufacturing sectors.

Asking the question again; do we need a textiles and apparels sector? Yes, we do. The sector has the ability to fill in the gaps in our economy, our social challenges and our industrialization journey. With the coming of the 4th industrial revolution and the changes in the global manufacturing, consumption and sourcing dynamics; Kenya lies at a good position to turn the waves into energy that will propel the country to the next frontier.

The writer is a Textiles and Apparel Sector Officer at Kenya Association of Manufacturers. He can be reached at

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