Swedish clothing retailer H&M is considering sourcing some of its merchandise from local suppliers, with teams from abroad in the country to assess potential partners, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.
“It is still in [the] very early stages,” said Amelia-May Woudstra.
“Our production team managers have started with an assessment of South Africa as a potential sourcing market,” she said.
Woudstra would not say which companies H&M was eyeing as potential suppliers.
The world’s second-largest retailer currently imports all its merchandise sold in South Africa – to the chagrin of labour unions, which have criticised the H&M business model since it arrived in the country in 2015.
Unions like the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu) have repeatedly accused H&M of damaging the local clothing manufacturing sector by not sourcing locally.
South Africa’s ailing manufacturing industry has been bleeding jobs for the last decade, with the sector losing business to countries like Lesotho, Madagascar and Swaziland.
In November 2017, the union staged protests outside the country’s major shopping centres that have H&M shops, demanding that the company start sourcing its merchandise from local manufacturers.
The fast fashion retailer opened its first South African branch in Cape Town. It has since embarked on an aggressive expansion, with a total of 18 shops so far.
Its presence has increased competition in the domestic market, with local retailers developing their fashion supply methods to meet growing consumer demands.
H&M has production hubs across the Far East, South Africa, Europe and a few countries in Africa, according to the company’s website.
In January, the Stockholm-based retailer temporarily closed some of its shops in South Africa following public outrage over a controversial advert depicting a black child in a sweater, with the slogan: “Coolest monkey in the jungle”.
The shop was accused of racism, with members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) protesting nationwide and damaging H&M stores at Sandton and Menlyn malls.