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Building production capacity in Clothing Cooperatives

Cooperatives fulfil an invaluable role in the socio-economic development of local urban and rural communities. This sector is also the most vulnerable.  Over recent years, these small entities had to contend not only with an already weakened economy, but also the impact of COVID 19.

In 2020/21, the hardships experienced by these (often informal) businesses multiplied as a result of disruptions caused during lockdown. A dramatic drop in consumer demand further contributed to their struggle.

The Importance of Cooperatives

Cooperatives are well placed to create employment opportunities, particularly for women, the youth and other aspiring entrepreneurs. And this has motivated the Department of Higher Education and Training to include Cooperatives as a focus beneficiary of the National Skills Development Plan (NSDP 2030).

In fact, Outcome 6 of the NSDP 2030 focuses solely on “Skills development support for Entrepreneurship and Cooperative development”.

The NSDP 2030 highlights the challenge of instilling “a culture and spirit of entrepreneurship and self-employment”. NSDP 2030 states clearly that this can only be achieved through skills development that targets youth and entrepreneurs in general.

It also recognises that skills development focused on Entrepreneurship and Cooperative development should be more about applied skills, tailor-made short courses and mentored learning and support.

FP&M SETA support to Cooperatives

FP&M SETA partnered with TVET SA in 2021 to implement two inititatives to capacitate Cooperatives in the fibre processing and manufacturing sectors.

The first intiative was an online webinar which was well attended by members of registered Cooperatives from across the country. The webinar was co-hosted by the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) During the webinar, presenters from TVET SA, SEDA and the Clothing Bank shared information on support available to Cooperatives from various institutions. A highlight of the webinar was a coaching session by Mr Graham Choice, MD : Merchandise Supply Chain at TFG entitled: “From small business owner to Corporate Business Leader – a journey to becoming a Captain of Industry”.

The second initiative was a short course intervention to capacitate the members and staff of four Cooperatives in the clothing and home textiles sector. The objectives of this technical skills development intervention were to –

  • Boost operator performance to improve production efficiency
  • Improve planning and resource utilisation through application of line balancing
  • Implement optimal methods to increase productivity and output

TVET SA recruited the four registered Cooperatives with assistance from SEDA and training commenced in July 2021. TVET SA implemented its skills development programmes as set out above, spending four weeks with each of the Cooperatives.

Our experienced skills development practitioners focused on the cross-training of sewing machine operators across several operations, and across different machine types. Additionally, the facilitators corrected handling techniques and boosted operators to increase efficiency.

Following a holistic approach, the facilitators provided training incorporating elements of pattern construction and garment making through to dispatch. Emphasis was placed on good housekeeping principles and the application of health and safety standards. Furthermore, focus was placed on the application of waste reduction measures to increase productivity and reduce costs.

Cooperatives benefit from cross training intervention

During the month of July 201, Patricia Small, TVET SA practical training facilitator, spent four weeks at Tshipa Curtains, situated in the Epping Industrial area. Tshipa Curtains manufacturers curtains and soft furnishings on order.

Patricia provided cross training to the members of the Cooperative executing sewing and finishing processes to ensure increased efficiencies from start to end.

Geoffrey Banda, one of the Directors of Tshipa Curtains, had this to say about the training:

Tshipa Curtains is so grateful for the training provided by TVET SA. The amount of knowledge gained in a month’s time is indescribable.

Patricia Small, the trainer had so much great knowledge to share. And the training was exciting. We used to make 300 curtains a day, but now within a month, we are making 450 per day.

We used to do things that wasted time and which was delaying our production. Patricia picked up (these issues) within two days of the start of the training and corrected it.

Our packaging has also improved. We are now doing it in a better and more presentable way.

Great appreciation to TVET SA and FP&M SETA for this opportunity. The improvement of our production will mean, quicker service to our customers and growth in our revenues.

Capacity building for Cooperatives in non-metro areas

In the meantime, 420 km east of Cape Town in the town of George, Andrea Poole from TVET SA, commenced training at Sew Happy Sewing Primary Cooperative.

Sew Happy is a female-driven Cooperative, based in Conville, George.  Conville is one of the poorest wards in the Southern Cape.  This Cooperative was formed in 2006 to combat unemployment in the area. And to provide quality, affordable school uniforms to learners in our communities

During lockdown, schools closed for extended periods at a time which impacted on the demand for school wear. Andrea provided on-the-line training to the members of the Cooperative to increase efficiencies within the sewing and finishing processes. The members responded well to the training. And their output increased from 23 completed tracksuits and rain jackets in the first week to 34 completed garments by the second week.

During this period, the Cooperative received a generous donation of fabric. Not familiar with the type of fabric, the members turned to Andrea for advice on how to utilise fabric optimally. Not suitable for their current product range, Andrea taught them how to utilise the fabric to manufacture aprons and chair covers for Grade R. Sew Happy Sewing  added the new products to their product range. These are now available in their shop.

The members of the Cooperative were very happy with the increased production. Now they can manufacture stock for their shop and not only deliver to order.

‘Sew Happy’ about capacity building intervention

Janine Bruce, from Sew Happy Sewing tells more about how they experienced the training intervention.

We are five ladies in the co-operative; we also have four machinists, one cutter, and two shop assistants. Two of the machinists are qualified and have worked in this industry for many years.  The others are all self-taught as we progressed over the years.

We were blessed to be nominated by SEDA to participate in the TVET SA training intervention .

Andrea spent four weeks at our premises providing us with hands-on training and support. We would like to report that Andrea is a very efficient trainer. 

She added value to each individual, by assisting them to improve themselves. We appreciate the empowering way in which Andrea conducted the training.

Andrea helped the individuals to reach manufacturing targets much greater than they ever realised they could do.  This helped us as an organisation to produce our orders at a much faster pace.

We would like to thank FP&M SETA for funding this training initiative. And Thandeka Vocational Education Trust (Pty) Ltd for implementing the programme.

I can assure you that we have benefitted greatly, and the impact made will show in our bottom lines.

Assisting Cooperatives in Township Areas

Training has commenced at a third site, Litha Primary Cooperative, in Khayelitsha on 12 August 2021.

The Cooperative manufactures shopping bags with webbing handles, conference bags that resemble laptop bags and triple-layered masks. During the first two days of the intervention, training focused on the implementation of more efficient housekeeping practices. The women embraced the opportunity to clear away unused items and storage boxes. The results were immediately visible.

The Cooperative manufactures on order and receives the fabric and consumables to manufacture masks and bags from Township Patterns.

During the first week of the training, the Cooperative completed their work order. At risk of not having any products to work with, they approached the supplier and requested an additional order so that the training initiative could continue without interruption. They received another order of 1,500 three-layered masks to be completed within 8 days.

Working hand-in-hand with the women from Litha Cooperative, Andrea assisted them with line balancing, and demonstrated more efficient production methods. She trained them how to record their outputs, how to reduce reject rates, and measure efficiency. The women adapted quickly to the new production methods.

Increased production rates at Khayelitsha Cooperative

Litha Primary Cooperative’s productivity increased significantly. Prior to the training, it would take 9 days to complete 1,500 units. To their amazement, they completed the order of 1,500 mask in 6 days, well in advance of their due date.  As a result of the early delivery, they received an additional order of 1,250 bags with the prospect of receiving larger orders on a more regular basis.

Half-way through the programme, the members of Litha Cooperative are feeling much more confident. And with a better understanding of the principles of production, they are ready to take on the challenge of accepting larger orders. And producing higher quality products.

The women also now understand the importance of clear communication with their customers and suppliers to ensure a steady flow of work.

Continuing the fight against unemployment

It is clear that Cooperatives are the backbone of rural and township communities. The courage and determination of these small business entities are truly commendable. Despite many economic setbacks, these organisations epitomise the fight against unemployment by providing a place of work to their members, and a source of income.

It has been our privilege to partner with the FP&M SETA on this intervention. We are encouraged to see the growth achieved over a short period of time, and we look forward to similar interventions in the future.

A fourth project will commence mid-September in the township of Langa, near Cape Town.

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