As glamourous as the fashion industry appears, it is also a fast-moving, high pressure and demand-driven sector that requires more than a good eye for the next fashion trends. This is a lesson that Graham Choice has had to learn quickly since his introduction to the industry when he started Prestige Clothing in 1989.
His is a rather atypical story given his rise to not only being a major supplier to one of the largest clothing retailers, but also as a catalyst driving the industry to new heights.
His story is one of a small, privately-owned clothing brand growing over some 20 years to becoming a strategic supplier to The Foschini Group (TFG), and eventually being acquired by the clothing retailer.
At the time of this deal, Prestige Clothing was supplying 25% of the larger group’s merchandise. Handling such large volumes was a direct result of Choice’s decision to adopt a modernised methodology that allowed it to produce new designs and clothing lines far more quickly.
This foresight to build a business around core competencies is undoubtedly one of the reasons for its success, subsequent acquisition by TFG and Choice’s appointment to set up the group’s Design Centre and TFG Manufacturing units.
“We can be measured now in the upper 25% globally of what we do. There are elements of our business that fail to meet that higher standard, which continually pull us out of that upper quartile. So we want to have more modern design software integration with fabric, fabric conversion capabilities,” Choice says.
“But when you look at our two factories, they are comparable globally with anybody. They may not be the biggest, with 500 employees each, but they set a standard of what could be doubled and tripled in the future.”
Choice’s vision of bigger, better, faster is a business philosophy that has driven Prestige Clothing and now TFG’s manufacturing to new heights.
And while he’s been able to continually grow the businesses despite a tough economy and global competition, there is little doubt that the CTCP’s Production Incentive Programme (PIP) and Competitiveness Improvement Programme (CIP) have been handy in supporting this growth.
The CIP’s introduction of clusters to help businesses in the same area or industry vertical is an initiative that Choice is quick to praise. And due to his success over the years to develop and adapt to market forces, the industry veteran has been quick to contribute his knowledge to these clusters.
“You can’t be an island of efficiency in a sea of inefficiency, you’ve got to get together with other companies that are succeeding. I want to work with them and the IDC programmes have allowed us to do that,” he says.
He has gotten involved in three different clusters under the CIP, the first being the Cape Clothing Cluster, a second that focused around quick response manufacturing and the third that is looking to grow local content by growing the local textile base.
“We have, through this programme, grown our own manufacturing base from 600 employees to 1 000 in three years, and we’re looking to grow this further from 1 000 to 2 000 workers within the next three years.”
It is no exaggeration to claim that Prestige and TFG have become true catalysts of growth in the local industry. Evidence of this is visible in Choice’s commitment to helping grow business able to fit into the clothing value chain.
Using the retail group’s tremendous buying power, he believes smaller businesses can easily grow their size and output by supplying TFG with textiles and materials it needs. He sees the compound value in these value chains working toward a common goal, as long as everyone invests in people and machinery to become sustainable businesses able to work together cohesively.