By the late 1990s Swaziland’s once-thriving textile sector had been reduced to mostly producing zippers and yarn due to the dominance of the Asian textile and clothing industry as well as the influx of high quality second-hand clothing into Africa. However, as clever entrepreneurs have always done, Nathi Dlamini found a niche to fill: the ongoing need for new uniforms for local service businesses such as sugar milling, food processing, hospitality, transportation, and forestry. In 2003 Nathi decided to apply his seven years of garment production and distribution experience from other factories and protective clothing manufacturers, establishing Livingstone Investments, a distributor of high value, low cost uniforms.
Still struggling to find loans to expand Livingstone Investments as well as needing both business and financial guidance, Nathi applied to TechnoServe Swaziland’s Believe Begin Become (BBB) business plan competition. He qualified to receive TechnoServe’s in-depth business training, updated his business plan, and then entered the competition’s final round. Nathi was awarded approximately US$10,000 seed capital as well as US$3,000 for business development services to expand his distribution company, Livingstone Investments. The company now leases a factory and manufactures its own branded garments. According to Nathi, perhaps the “best prize” is his volunteer mentor Vic, a 35-year garment production veteran from South Africa, linked by TechnoServe in September 2008. Since then Vic has guided him in a number of areas on a monthly basis to successfully expand Livingston Investments. For example he helped Nathi to review new business and larger orders to ensure competitive pricing and profitability; recruit a production supervisor with large garment factory experience to manage a growing production line; improve inventory tracking to prevent theft and increase sales; and boost production quality and volume (e.g., better thread strength).
Vic says, “I am happy to volunteer my time. Since Livingstone doesn’t directly compete with Fashion International, I am comfortable having Nathi visit our factory, observe our production lines, and meet with our line managers. I enjoy passing on my experience, particularly to help Nathi in his production, marketing and staffing challenges.” Swaziland’s economy, Livingstone Investments, and Nathi himself are clear winners.