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High demand for garments

Marlon Madden

High demand for garments

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AT LEAST ONE small garment manufacturer has reported an increased in the demand for locally made garments, so much so that she had to turn away some people.
Furthermore, Cheryl Stoute, 50, said there has been a growing request for school uniforms and lab coats. However, financing is still a serious challenge for that industry.
“The demand for uniforms is there. We actually had to refuse some people because of the lack of funding. We didn’t have the funds to go full-fledged.
“And we would have done a number of schools – we went across the range from nursery to secondary, and we now have requests for doctor’s coats and lab coats. “In manufacturing, stock and time play a very important role. You can only make your delivery dates by having the stock on hand, and you need funds to do that,” explained Stoute, managing director and owner of AC’s Manufacturing.
“What we did, we made a couple of samples and displayed them in our stores and then everybody who came in wanted the uniforms. I had no idea we had so many primary schools in Barbados. It is a lot of work,” she said.
AC’s Manufacturering, located in Eden Lodge, St Michael, currently employs 20 people. They started out by producing only work garments. Stoute said she believed she now had the capacity to mass-produce more garments and employ more people.
“This is our first year that we decided to branch off into school uniforms. The response from the public was overwhelming for our first year. However, funding is very, very difficult to get in the garment industry and I believe it is one of the only industries that can help with the unemployment situation [on the island],” she said.
Notwithstanding the challenges, Stoute, who has been in operations for more than 20 years, told BARBADOS?BUSINESS?AUTHORITY she believed the industry had come a long way.
“We just grew from basically a household, what they would call in those days a cottage industry. Then we moved from there where we increased the equipment and now we are into a full-fledged garment factory.
“I would have started out with three [workers]; myself and two others,” noted Stoute.
Most of the production is done for the stores which Stoute also operates – Unlimited Collection – located in Bridgetown and Mall Internationale in Haggatt Hall.
She said there have been a number of good changes within the industry over the years.
“When we first started, you could not put on our label ‘Made in Barbados’. Today, Barbadians actually come in and look for that. They actually come and read the label and ask questions about the ownership. So the 100 per cent Bajan is really working compared to when we first started, and that has driven our demand.
“It built our confidence [to] know that our fellow Barbadians appreciate good quality work and good service. When you are buying local and you have a problem, that problem can be easily fixed – [unlike] buying overseas goods,” she said.
Stoute added that “the Government has done its part in terms of giving us the VAT off at the port of entry for our raw materials; that has been a tremendous help.
“But the next stage now is being able to access the funding that is there but there is too much red tape . . . and there is enough work out there to employ Barbadians and save foreign exchange.”
Before taking on the production of uniforms this year, employees were operating on a three-day work week.
“We moved to the five-day because of the increase. We will be doing our official launch [of school uniforms] at Agrofest next year. So we will be planning early.
“February may appear to be a bit early but in terms of production, it is not, for a June/July delivery. So we want to work with parents [to] take the frustration out of purchasing school clothes,” she said.
As a child, Stoute attended needlework classes. That was where her interest in the industry started.
“My mother was very instrumental in helping me . . . . Then I worked in garment factories and it was always one of my dreams to own my own factory. This is my dream. This is my baby,” she said.
The best part of her job, she said, is when customers express their satisfaction: “That smile, that thank you from customers.”