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MENA moves exports to Fiji

The Director of Samoa’s premier fashion house, MENA Samoa Ltd, Agnes Loheni, has denied claims that a lack of reliable workers has forced her company to send its export orders to Fiji for manufacture.

Instead, she says the problem has to do with reliability of shipping services.

“We are really proud of the skill base we have built up - the labour issues we have faced in Samoa have not been any more challenging than those we face in New Zealand,” she said in a response to email questions. Supply, however, is an issue. For example, shipping in raw materials can be hindered by changing shipping schedules.

“Our customers expect us to provide them our latest fashion as soon as possible. Reliability of shipping is fundamental to that.” Pricing is also affected by the tala, she said. Any drop in value against the New Zealand, United States and Australian dollars does make raw materials considerably more expensive.

“This has seen us having to take losses on our bottom line in an effort to maintain reasonable prices to our Samoan customers. But we can’t keep doing that forever. “

Confirmation that MENA is moving its export manufacturing to Fiji follows complaints from others in the industry about a lack of skilled workers forcing them to outsource manufacturing. Clothes sewn in Samoa are “expensive and quality is not up to par,” said one designer, who spoke to the Sunday Samoan on condition of anonymity.

“I totally understand why MENA is gifting jobs to Fiji,” she said.

Here, “the work is never consistent, the prices are not standardised, the timelines are never met, especially with our local tailors. We need tailors in Samoa to step up!”

No one in the fashion industry may be willing to publicly criticise the quality of work in Samoa, but wider employer surveys in 2007 and 2010 found that problems with workers included “laziness”, “dishonesty” and a lack of skills and iniative.

For her part, Ms. Loheni quotes the example of fashion and other businesses worldwide who have manufacturing contracts outside their countries of origin.

“Demand for our Samoan fashion is now greater than our ability to supply from Samoa,” she said. MENA is already manufactured in New Zealand and has been for the past eight years.

The dress brand also has a retail store in Auckland. Ms. Loheni hasn’t forgotten their humble beginnings here in Samoa, back in 2002.

“We are very proud of our Samoan roots as a business – our people have embraced us and what our brand stands for,” she said.

“It is absolutely Samoan and without our people, our customers, we would not be here today - business is now Pacific wide.”

Ms. Loheni claims that when dealing with international wholesale customers, the demand for supply changes dramatically. So much that “it is very cutthroat out there”.

“Supply contracts have built in penalties for none or late delivery.”

The result is that the quantities are large but the margins small. It means that MENA needs to have certainty of supply at the quantities required.



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