Egyptian garment manufacturer targets U.S market

A leading Egyptian maker of clothes for global brands plans to expand sales to the United States, helped by the drop in the Egyptian pound’s value since currency restrictions were removed.

Arafa Holding, Egypt’s biggest exporter of ready-made garments had challenges penetrating the U.S. market because the currency was overvalued.

But a weaker pound is allowing Arafa Holding to grow and resume expansion plans halted since the 2011 uprising against long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.

Since the beginning of 2017, we have started rebuilding export markets lost in previous years,” said company Chairman Alaa Arafa said in Cairo office. “Before that we were thinking when will our business shut down; but now there is hope; now we can sit with clients and speak about the future.”

Arafa’s plans are the kind of response Egyptian officials hoped the economic reform measures taken last year would generate.

By allowing the pound to weaken, cutting state spending and securing a $12 billion International Monetary Fund loan, authorities want to regain the confidence not only of foreign investors but also to spur local businessmen to expand and look for export opportunities.

Arafa, which operates more than 10 factories inside Egypt employing some 13,000 people, wants to raise production to 6,500 suits per day by the second half of 2017, from 5,800 now, the chairman said.

The focus will be on exports, and the company could reach total sales of $300 million in the coming fiscal year that starts Feb. 1, with overseas sales growing to $150 million, he said. Other customers currently include Zara, U.K. department store Debenhams and Ben Sherman.

The company also intends to expand its Concrete brand beyond Egypt, with outlets in Arab Gulf countries in 2019, Arafa said. Inside Egypt, it will introduce one of the brands it owns in the U.K. as part of a plan to “aggressively” target the middle-income segments, he said.

The pound lost about half its value against the U.S. dollar since November, making exports more competitive, but causing inflation to surge more than 30 percent. The resulting drop in real incomes is taking a toll on economic growth. The central bank raised interest rates 200 basis points last week to curb price increases amid concerns the move would slow the economy.

Arafa believes Egypt will recover as long as it taps the benefits of the weaker currency. “Exporting is the only way out of this economic crisis,” he said.