The textile industry occupies an important place in the Malagasy economy, particularly in terms of the country's trade balance. It is true that the industry has not developed in Madagascar as it has in Asian countries and in some Maghreb countries, but the country's garment companies manage to maintain a place in the economy of global manufacturers.

Needless to say, the country has very few garment giants, similar to Bangladeshi buildings where machines are spread over several floors. Malagasy garment factories are, for the most part, human-sized places where, fortunately, it is not necessary to have a helicopter to go from one building to another.

Although hampered by a limited number of garment manufacturers and composed of medium-sized companies (which sometimes prevents the arrival of new buyers in the area), the country has capitalized on a differentiating garment know-how and a gradual rise in social and ecological considerations.

It is certain today that a paradigm shift is taking place in the industry, and it is possible that the hindered development of Malagasy textiles will finally augur a bright future for local clothing.

Some key figures: David versus Goliath versus Goliath


Benghali Lion fighting a traditional malagasy soldier. Azala image.

The turnover of the textile industry in Madagascar is about 120 million euros, compared to 700 million euros for Morocco and over 30 billion euros for Bangladesh.

The textile industry in Bangladesh alone represents twice the GDP of Madagascar. China's textile industry alone is worth nearly €250 billion annually.


A little history

Painting of an old Malagasy industrial fabric. Azala image.

The industrial history of textiles in Madagascar dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Under colonization, many spinning and weaving units were created in the country with the arrival of new European looms.

Until the middle of the 20th century, the Malagasy industrial fabric experienced a period of growth, but the Second World War disrupted the country's economic cycle. The Malagasy textile industry having been designed to supply France, the drastic reduction of French imports brought a sharp halt to the expansion of local manufacturing.

At the end of the war, the textile industry restarted and began to diversify its exports outside France, particularly after decolonization (1960). But once again, the dynamics of the sector was quickly broken by the new competition from Asian countries (particularly China) from the early 1980s. Malagasy exports to Europe declined drastically and Madagascar was unable to keep pace with other producing countries.

Despite the huge gap between Madagascar and the major textile producing countries, the industry has never completely disappeared in the country. Thanks to multi-fiber agreements, new factories continued to spring up in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Currently, Madagascar has only a few dozen textile exporting factories and the vast majority of exports are still directed to France. The sector is poorly subsidized and the creation of exporting companies has become very difficult. In spite of this, a number of major brands continue to manufacture in the area, which despite a competitive disadvantage, retains strong know-how in the field of clothing.


The ecological transition: an opportunity for the Malagasy industry?

Drawing representing Madagascar artisanal know-how. Azala image.

Sustainable textiles in Madagascar is between myth and reality. What is clear is that it represents a huge opportunity for the textile industry and for the Malagasy economy. What is certain is that the non-existence of the textile industry in the country and the preponderance of small family businesses has led to a precursory development of the sustainable industry in the country, compared to other manufacturing countries.

Several factors explain a development that seems to be going in the right direction. The strong artisanal identity of the country, such as the work of raffia or wild silk, the many local skills, such as embroidery, or the relatively high-end positioning of local manufacturers are all factors that allow the textile environment to take a precursory CSR turn.

Obviously, the road is far from being finished, but for all that, the observation exists. Visiting the country's textile factories, we find private wastewater treatment plants in companies that only make a few million euros in turnover. The country's sunny climate and difficult electricity supply have also encouraged the deployment of solar panels in factories. In addition, many initiatives with a social aim are emerging: solidarity nurseries, medical centers (supported by the Malagasy social security system), lactariums, etc.

Foreign clients have also encouraged the CSR development of the Malagasy textile industry. A significant part of the brands working with Madagascar are French brands, and sustainable development has been widely promoted. Several local factories are accredited with the main international labels (GOTS, ECOCERT, etc.).

In view of these characteristics, and despite the country's many difficulties, it is possible that Madagascar's place in the large garment industry will grow. When we know that the final transport of a garment represents only 2 to 4% of its ecological impact, the possibility of decreasing the manufacturing footprint and the negative externalities linked to garment manufacturing must become an anchor point for the future development of the Malagasy industry.


Azala : a new history of textile made in Mada

Sleeveless vest made from patchwork. Azala.

Azala means "oh là là" in Malagasy, and although it has no relation to the purpose of this article, it is specified.

Beyond its own raison d'être, which is to create a virtuous and circular ecosystem in the fashion industry, Azala wanted to show a proof of concept of Malagasy industrial know-how through the manufacture of entirely upcycled products.

The proof of concept has several aims:

• Demonstrate the possibility of manufacturing a product without using new material
• To propose a model of manufacture at the border of the industrial and the artisanal
• To promote the Malagasy know-how
• To conceive a different and fairer business model: manufacturing represents about a third of the cost of a product
• Manufacturing must have a direct and indirect impact on the country: by working on a clothing project in partnership with local associations (in progress) and by subsidizing local ecology (through reforestation projects)


Oh là là... discover our upcycled products made in Madagascar


In conclusion, a new paradigm is emerging in the global textile industry, for the better. The particular characteristics of the Malagasy industrial zone make it an appropriate place to address this change. Madagascar must go even further in the industrialization of sustainable textiles, by frankly embracing the new concepts around upcycling, organic, responsible crafts and circular economy.


Sofiane Bouhali for Azala