In Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, two women closely monitor the move of each other as they choose between a ‘capable husband’ and an ‘ungrateful husband’.
If you got the impression that the women were evaluating the virtues or vices of potential spouses, nothing would be further from truth. The women were in fact choosing from a colorful list of nicknames for some of the even more colorful fabrics lined up in front of them.
The thousands of colorful fabrics in different patterns, which fill fabric shops in Abidjan and elsewhere in Ivory Coast, often carry popular names inspired by characters from popular television serials, or from some societal facts.
Ivory Coast has some of the oldest textile industries in Africa and it was also among the continent’s major cotton exporters before the 2002-2003 civil war split the country in two and halved production. However, since the end of the conflict and over the last five years, annual cotton production has risen steadily to total 500,000 tonnes of unginned cotton during the 2015-2016 season.
Ivory Coast is now West Africa’s third biggest producer of cotton behind neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali. Governments in the region, eager to revive a sector that once grew 15 percent of the world’s cotton, are offering high prices to farmers to attract them back into cotton farming. Cotton production has also seen a revival of the textile industry that spins, weaves, prints and waxes colorful cloth for domestic use as well as to markets in Europe and the United States.
Though the recent influx of cheaper material from China and Thailand, as well as from the larger Nigerian market, has dented sales, the Ivoirian textile industry is hitting back with a strategy of creativity, marketing and distribution. Local companies are showing they can take on the best from the world and beat them at their game.
In September, Uniwax, one of the oldest textile companies in Ivory Coast, saw its profits cross 6 million euros from a turnover of 55 million euros. The company, which was established in 1965 and employs over 750 people, was recently able to raise 15 million euros on the stock market to finance an investment plan aimed at increasing production.