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UD assists South African cotton industry

March 9, 2015--South Africa is working to revitalize its cotton textile and apparel industry, which has been damaged by the availability of inexpensive imported clothing, by focusing on sustainability — a focus that is expected to benefit from the University of Delaware’s expertise.

UD’s Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, a recognized global leader in the area of socially responsible apparel, is included in a five-year grant from South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry. The $20 million grant is funding the establishment of a Southern African Sustainable Textile and Apparel Cluster, with a goal of helping the industry improve its competitiveness by creating an integrated supply chain from cotton field through retail that seeks to minimize negative impacts on the environment and people involved.

“This idea started with the cotton farmers, who felt an urgent need to revive and expand employment opportunities through farming, and they thought that a focus on environmental and social responsibility would be a good way to rebuild,” said Marsha Dickson, who is Irma Ayers Professor of Human Services and chair of UD’s fashion and apparel department. “We were brought in as an outside group that can provide a global perspective and work with farmers, textile mills, apparel manufacturers and retailers to implement a sustainable cotton supply chain that will have long-term success.”

When apartheid-era trade sanctions against South Africa ended, imported cotton fiber, textiles and finished garments began streaming into the country, to the disadvantage of the local industry. With expanded global competitiveness, an uncertain market and lack of subsidies, many cotton farmers stopped growing the crop, and many textile mills and clothing manufacturers shut down, leading to extensive job loss.