BY HOMMES D’AFRIQUE MAGAZINE*
A question: where do you think the best shirts are produced in Africa? The answer may surprise, but it’s probably in Asmara, Eritrea. ZaEr Dolce Vita, the leading textile company in that country produce a middle to high quality men’s and women’s shirts most of which are exported to the European markets.
Thanks to a solid Italian know-how and renowned design, the Zambaiti family opened a factory in Asmara a decade ago. Despite circumstantial difficulties, the factory is doing very well, commercially and is even a model in terms of corporate responsibility.
A team of Hommes d’Afrique magazine went to the factory for an interview with Mr. Pietro Zambaiti, the factory CEO, whose father founded the company.
A wide African market is possible for ZaEr Dolce Vita that is now expanding into the workwear and police and army uniforms.
ZaEr is an excellent case of industrialization of an African economy and transfer of technology. More companies like this, in diverse sectors, are needed in Eritrea and more generally in the whole African continent.
Q : What does ZaEr Dolce Vita produce and sell?
Our core business is men’s and ladies’ shirt production. We also have another unit that produces other garments like pants, nightwear, polo, etc. In the last two years, we entered the workwear and uniform market. We foresee a good potential in that segment. A third unit is cotton spinning. We produce twisted yarn 30/2 with 100% African cotton and all for export.
Q : What is ZaEr Dolce Vita’s production output in a year?
We actually have two garment units with nearly 350 workers in total and a spinning unit with 100 workers. In total we employ 550 Eritrean workers, including structure. This year we will produce 230,000 shirts with a 10% growth compared to last year, 100.000 other garments and uniforms and 240,000 kgs of yarn.
Q : What are ZaEr Dolce Vita’s annual revenues and what are your forecasts in the next three?
The 2016 turnover was 6 million US$. We have a growth plan. We are targeting to reach 10 million within the next 3 years. The main growth will be in shirts and workwear.
Q : Where are your markets and how do you reach them?
The main export market at the moment is Italy. We have a company named StartAfrica in Bergamo, near Milan. From there, we handle both sourcing and marketing. Our main customers are middle and high end market retailers and department stores. We also export to Croatia, Denmark and Thailand. Some Customers like Boys Scout in Italy, appreciates the fact that their shirt is produced in Africa, giving a chance to African Workers.
Q : What is the share of Africa in your total revenues?
At the moment with the exception of local Eritrean market, our export in Africa is still very small. We have a nice customer base in Zambia. Our Dolce Vita brand is well known in that Country. Still Africa and starting from COMESA Countries will be our main target in the coming three years.
Q : When and how was ZaEr Dolce Vita created?
My father came to Asmara after the independence and liked the Country and the People. He brought us back in 2004 when the government approached us with an investment proposal. We decided to create Zaer Dolce Vita. After more than ten years, we are here planning for future growth.
Q : What difficulties do you face in running your business in Eritrea?
We went through a tough period since the 2008 long period of international economy crisis affected the textile business, particularly in the developed countries. This did not help. We manage to protect the business and meanwhile we improved our quality to be ready for future opportunities.
Two other major problems prevented us from reaching our targets: the lack of cotton supply in Eritrea, and lately, the power shortage, a problem on which the government focuses its attention, and is on the way to solve. We did not get the chance to take advantage of the recent African growth, but as I already said, this will now be our main target.
Q : Is your business affected by the international sanctions against Eritrea?
We feel direct and indirect consequences. For example the lack of commercial traffic affects our logistics. Moreover, containers are often controlled by customs authorities, causing additional costs and delays.
In general ‘Made in Eritrea’ sometimes risk to have a negative impact on international buyers in developed countries. We know very well from our side and knowing Eritrea from inside that this perception is unfair. We are convinced that we are playing a positive role in Eritrea. We provide qualified job opportunities and better salaries, with a socially responsible approach. For example, you can see our unique kindergarten. This is a model and a benchmark to follow.
Q : How are the relations of your company with Eritrean public authorities?
Since the beginning, we have had a constructive collaboration. We are a pioneer in manufacturing and we had to face several problems in our start-up phase. We always find solutions in collaboration with the Government. Even today, if we feel something is not helpful and can affect the success of our model, we approach the competent authorities and try to find the best solutions.
Q : What type of African customers are you targeting and what would you tell them to buy your products?
We can surely sell our beautiful “Made in Eritrea” shirts to African Customers, but the difficulty we face is related to logistics and distribution in Africa. In the future, we can consider opening qualified stores in main cities like Nairobi or Kampala.
Meanwhile, we are developing an e-commerce named www.africando.com that will be online by the end of the year. We feel that workwear, army and police uniforms, offer the best opportunities in nearby countries, starting with the COMESA markets. We are developing a catalogue of our Africa@WORK Collection. Soon, we will start to promote our products.
The idea is to create job opportunities in Africa, while proving the best African Workers with good Made in Africa garments. A win-win strategy.
* This piece was published on Hommes d’Afrique Magazine, No. 98, July 2017 issue.