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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 August 2006, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Chinese threat for Ghana's textile firms
By Orla Ryan
Accra, Ghana

Philip Adu-Gyamf (left) at ATL's textiles factory
Brightly coloured African textile designs are big business in Ghana

Ghanaian textile designer Philip Adu-Gyamfi wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about what he will design the next day.

The African prints he and his team design for textile firm ATL are hugely popular.

They are worn to church, funerals and weddings - every occasion, traditional or modern, that Ghanaians can find an excuse to wear them to.

But Chinese copies of these designs are being smuggled into the West African country and sold at vastly-reduced rates.

And this is forcing designers like Mr Adu-Gyamfi to work doubly hard to stay ahead.

"It is not easy at all," he says. "You get to a market and the design you have made has been copied, you feel like crying."

Fabric love

When people see you (wearing African fabric), they appreciate you are of a certain class
Philip Adu-Gyamfi, ATL textile designer

Traditional African prints, some printed in wax, are a popular sight in Ghana and throughout West Africa.

On Sundays, Ghanaian women, magnificently dressed in brightly-coloured fabrics, sail through the capital Accra's dusty streets to attend church services.

Most weekends, mourners attend funeral parties decked in red, brown and black traditional cloth.

In some cultures, traditional African wax print is even included as part of the bride price.

For many, there is no greater indicator of prestige or class than wearing clothes made from fine-quality African fabric.

"When people see you (wearing African fabric), they appreciate you are of a certain class," says Mr Adu-Gyamfi.

Lucrative market

Meeting the fashion needs of Ghanaian women is big business.

Textile designs
Dealers can make more from fake textile designs than African originals

About 150 million yards of African prints worth up to $250m (131.5m) are sold in Ghana each year.

But just one quarter of Ghanaian demand for African prints is met by locally produced textiles - a situation that ATL attributes to smuggled Chinese imitations.

Sales have fallen by between 50% and 75%, as customers buy Chinese copies of locally produced designs.

"We started to realise there was a flood of Asian products arriving on the market two years ago. It started in 2004, it really built up. Last year it was terrible, there were loads coming in," says ATL's Steve Dutton.

Arriving in the free port of Lome and smuggled into Ghana, Chinese imitations retail at between 160,000 and 220,000 Ghanaian cedis per 12 yards.

This is almost half to a third cheaper than the 300,000 cedis ATL charges.

Chinese machine

ATL is not the only textile firm to complain of competition from China.

Many European and American firms struggle to compete with the Chinese manufacturing machine.

Chinese imports are particularly likely to hurt Dutch firms, who have a long tradition of selling wax cloth in West Africa

The Ghanaian textile market has seen years of decline - much as Ghanaians love African prints, not everyone can afford them and many buy cheap second-hand Western clothes.

Cheap labour and high productivity makes it almost impossible to compete with Chinese firms, Mr Dutton admits.

ATL had expected its creativity and market knowledge to give the firm an edge.

This advantage, says Mr Dutton, is eroded by the fact that most of the Chinese fabrics arriving in Ghana are replicas of Ghanaian-copyrighted designs.

Fight back

Faced with the difficulty of tracking down Chinese manufacturers, ATL is tackling local traders instead.

Some traders are happy to co-operate, others want to enjoy the higher margins on the fake products.

It is nearly impossible to find out where the goods came from, but Ghanaian-made sales do rise after a crackdown.

"All we can do is attack people selling it here, we don't want to do that, but that is the only line of defence we have," says Mr Dutton.


SEE ALSO
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