Years of experience developing ‘technically-engineered fabrics’, however, stood it in good stead when it started accessing funding under the Clothing and Textiles Competitiveness Programme to further improves its products. Company CEO Dirk Coetzee says that the Production Incentive Programme (PIP) and Competitiveness Improvement Programme (CIP) allowed Gelvenor to invest further into research and development (R&D). He explains that rather than blindly going out to buy machinery to increase capacity, the funding was initially used to buy machines that allowed it to expand its R&D capabilities. “Since then we’ve been replacing equipment with the funding we’ve received to make us more productive, specifically in terms of output but also in terms of energy savings and water savings,” he says. “The CIP we used when it was first launched for a productivity improvement programme, which worked very well for us. We then looked at the Cluster programmes and got involved with the technical textile cluster and with the sustainable cotton cluster. Being in the clusters the programme forces you to focus very strongly on people development, on product and process development and your marketing efforts.”
The combination of all these efforts to drive efficiencies and improvements helped the company grow exports by more than 60%.
Today, Gelvenor supplies specialist materials for use in extreme applications like the aerospace industry, bullet resistant vests, vehicle armouring, vehicle air bags and fire resistant outfits. More conventional applications include use of its fabrics for outdoor use in tents, life jackets, sleeping bags, sportsware and military applications, as well as specialist fabrics for day-to-day apparel.
More recently, the company patented a ‘revolutionary’ fabric on conveyor belts in the mining sector.
An important aspect of the CTCP that has helped Gelvenor strengthen its position in the market is the introduction of the ‘cluster’ concept.
Coetzee says the company participated in the technical textile cluster and sustainable cotton cluster that enabled it to focus more intensely on its marketing, product innovation and development efforts. This facilitated attendance of international exhibitions and increased co-ordination throughout the value chain that allowed Gelvenor to adopt a stronger position in the marketing of its hi-tech products. “Being in the clusters programme forces you to focus very strongly on people development, on product and process development and your marketing efforts and I think it has made a significant difference in our business.” As a result of his experience with the cluster system, Coetzee has also been able to take a number of smaller companies under his wing as a mentor, as well as helping them participate in international exhibitions and enter the export market.
This desire to lend a helping hand extends to the company’s emphasis on training its people. This is especially important because its products are of such a specialised nature, which not only demands the rights skills to produce the high-quality fabrics, but also because it needs to retain those skills to thrive. Although it suffered heavy job losses prior to the introduction of CTCP, it has stabilised its numbers at 300 people.