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Fijian garment industry

immago and the Fijian Garment Industry

Last month we talked about immago and Australia, our role in the industry there, and how we can help Australian businesses. This month we explore our presence in Fiji, one of the most beautiful and friendliest places on earth.

A brief history of Fiji

Found in Melanesia, Fiji consists of hundreds of islands and islets, many of them mountainous and thickly forested, ending in postcard-perfect tropical beaches. Humans first arrived somewhere around 3-5 thousand years ago and settled into various Chiefdoms.

Abel Tasman was the first European to lay eyes on the Islands, but it wasn’t until over a century later that Fiji was first charted and mapped by Englishman Willian Bligh. Sailors, merchants, and missionaries soon began to arrive, and one of the local Chiefs, Seru Epenisa Cakobau, was converted to Christianity.

Cakobau immediately declared himself king of all of Fiji, much to the bewilderment of the rest of the Chiefs, but after almost two decades of war, turns out he was right, and he finally succeeded in creating a united Fijian kingdom in 1871.

Fearing an American invasion, Cakobau handed the country over to the British, and on October 10, 1874, Fiji became a British colony.

Sir Arthur Gordon, the first governor of Fiji, saw himself as the protector of the Fijian people. He prohibited the exploitation of Fijian people for labour and made it illegal for Fijian peoples’ land to be sold.

A new era

Banning the exploitation of Fijian workers was a great ethical and moral victory, but it meant that the country’s economy suffered significant workforce shortages, and so the country began to encourage mass immigration of people from India.

Between 1879 and 1916, over 60,000 Indians came to Fiji to work, mostly on sugarcane plantations. Fast forward several generations later, and by the 1980’s, Indo-Fijians made up almost half the population of the country.

From the late 1990’s through to 2006, Fiji suffered a period of political instability that saw three military coups.  The last of these, in 2006, saw Frank Bainimarama becoming Prime Minister, a position he still holds having won elections in 2014 and in 2018.

Fijian solider

The Fijian garment industry

After the first coup in 1987, there was an economic strategy for the country, centred around exports. The Fijian garment industry was born out of this new development plan and enjoyed early rapid growth, assisted by preferential trade arrangements with the US, Australia, NZ, and Europe.

Before the second coup in 2000, at its peak, the Fijian garment industry employed almost 20,000 workers in 105 factories.

Since then, political instability and the cessation of the preferential trade arrangements have seen the industry struggle. Today, the industry employs around 7000 workers, focusing on a small group of niche markets, including ladies’ fashionwear, uniforms, and sportswear.

immago in Fiji

We have been in Fiji for 25 years and have continued to support the garment industry here throughout political and economic instability and have come out the other side as the pre-eminent supplier of labels and packaging in the country.

Any apparel factories based in Fiji enjoy the same product offering as any of our international customers, including the full suite of sustainable label and packaging solutions.

We are proud to support local Fijian designers, such as Samal Singh, and the annual Fiji Fashion Week showcase.

Around 80% of the industry’s employees in Fiji are women, and we’ve been proud to support the charge for women and worker’s rights in the country. All our factories are visited by us personally to make sure staff are looked after and everything is above board

Our Business Manager in Fiji, Adeshni Pratap, started as a factory operator on the first day we opened in 1997 and today leads our team in our Suva office. She has been a huge part of our success there and is leading the way for women in the country.

Fijian sunset

How Fiji can help your apparel business

Fiji is an excellent choice for Australasian brands ‘near-sourcing’.

If you’re looking for somewhere to make clothes, countries like China, Bangladesh, or Indonesia come with their own issues, such as time differences, language barriers, orders getting lost in translation, quality assurance, and human rights issues.

Fiji is actually in between New Zealand and Australia in time zones, making it a convenient spot for both countries to do business.  A former British colony, English is an official language, and with regular transport links and freight lines, shipping has competitive advantages.

Fiji ticks a lot of boxes for the garment industry. Hard-working, highly skilled people with plenty of experience, and immago are right in the middle of it all and have been for the past 25 years.

If you would like to know more about how we can help your business in Fiji, then please don’t hesitate to contact us today and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have.