The Business Strategies of South African Textile Firms and Global Trends in 4IR and Sustainability Technologies

Lindsay Whitfield, Vuyiswa Mkhabela

Publikation: Working paperForskning


New technologies in robotics, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, the internet of things, smart sensors and 3D printing are seen as disruptive technologies that will change manufacturing. This paper argues that the sustainability shift in apparel and textile global supply chains has led to innovations that combine digitalisation and biotechnology in ways that will have bigger disruptive effects on the global apparel and textile industry. It examines the extent to which South African textile firms are adopting 4IR technologies as well as environmental sustainability technologies in their business strategies, drawing on original empirical materials from a survey of a sample of textile firms carried out in August 2022. South Africa’s textile and apparel industry stagnated even before trade liberalisation in the mid1990s and was not competitive at the time of opening to the global economy, because firms had not kept up with technological changes. Only when the South African retailers faced growing competition from international retail corporations in the late 2010s did the industry actors come together and commit to investments to make the local supply chain more competitive. The survey findings show a quite limited adoption of 4IR technologies among textile firms. Firms that produced relatively higher value products had adopted some aspects of 4IR and newer machines. In contrast, firms producing low-value products for retailers focussed on the low-value segment did not as their product type made such technologies unnecessary, and their profit margins were not capable of affording them in the short term. The findings also point to structural constraints within the South African textile and apparel industry and the general domestic economy that limit the adoption of 4IR and sustainability technologies. In concluding, we argue that the South African textile and apparel industry is
relatively well placed to capitalise on the window of opportunity to adopt the latest fibre and textile technologies and to engage in research and development in these areas, and that doing so will increase the competitiveness of the industry and position it better to export.
UdgiverUniversity of Johannesburg
Antal sider39
ISBN (Trykt)9780639836379
StatusUdgivet - jan. 2023
NavnSARChI Industrial Development Working Paper Series
NummerWP 2023-01


  • South Africa
  • Apparel global value chains
  • Digitalisation
  • Circular economy