The Game Plan | If you can’t beat them, join them: Edgars’ strategy to take on cheap clothing retailers

(Image by Fortune Moyo, GPJ Zimbabwe)

In 2023, the Edgars Store in Bulawayo closed shop. One of the reasons was the army of vendors selling cheap clothes on its doorstep. For the biggest clothing manufacturer in the country, the informal market has been its biggest threat. Now, the company wants to turn that same threat into its biggest opportunity.

Edgars has laid out a plan to take back some of the market share it has lost to clothing vendors selling fashion out of car boots and budget boutiques – by doing exactly what they are doing.

Under the plan, Edgars will relaunch Express Stores and introduce its own vans and containers to sell clothes in the teeming city downtown areas, and in previously neglected but thriving markets outside the towns.

“There are several shortcomings faced by players in this (informal retail) space, mainly around quality issues, size curves and in the case of second-hand clothes, potential health risk concerns. We as Edgards have an opportunity to service this segment through the Express Chain,” Edgars says.

How will this work? Edgars wants to be Zimbabwe’s Shein, the global fast fashion giant that makes and ships cheap clothes around the world. The company is reopening the Express Stores; it will sell goods at a lower price than Jet Stores, another Edgars unit. The big idea, this time, is that Express Stores will sell clothes made at home by Carousel, Edgars’ manufacturing arm. The company believes it can make cheaper clothing at home, for as little as a dollar for some items. This will allow shoppers to leave Express Stores with a basket of new clothes after spending US$10 or less.

Edgars sources some of its material from abroad, including from India’s denim supplier Anubha Industries, and tailors them at Carousel. To make the shift possible, Edgars has invested US$1 million to buy new equipment at Carousel. This has driven output from around 7,000 units per month in 2022 to 45,000 today. The company aims to push this to 100,000 units this year. Carousel employed 300 more people last year as it expanded.

But, the big criticism of Edgars is that it is “out of fashion” in more ways than one. Can Edgars start making the sort of fashion that people actually want to wear? Sevious Mushosho, appointed CEO to turn around the company last year, admits that Edgars “dropped the ball” along the way and lost to imported fashion. Now, he says, the company is hiring designers with a good eye for trends.

“We are replacing some of the suppliers who were not doing good for our brand. We have a fantastic team of designers at Carousel,” says Mushosho. “The improved execution of stitching, styling process will help improve the look and feel of our garments.”

Edgars is looking to work with designers from Zimbabwe and abroad.

“We are at advanced stages of collaborating with some of the best design talents in the country, and outside the country,” according to Manfree Tanyanyiwa, who heads Carousel. “We are setting up a nice research and development team so that we remain abreast of developments in the fashion world.”

Can Edgars compete against dirt-cheap imported clothes?

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But how does Edgars plan to sell its clothes in the crowded informal retail space? The market is packed with small boutiques selling imported fashion supplied by cross-border “runners”, and big “mabhero” markets for second-hand clothes. Chesternoel Mutevhe, who joined as CFO in January, says Edgars has a plan for this.

“First, we will have ordinary brick-and-mortar stores. We will also have mobile stores, which we have already tested. We have two types of these; we have a van going out into some of these places, making sales and coming back. We are also exploring container stores that are mobile as well in some of these remote areas,” Mutevhe explains. Edgars is also looking at a “store-within-a store” concept, where it takes out spots in existing retailers.

Mutevhe says: “There are places that we are not in, Then, in the major cities, we will be mainly in the downtown areas, which is where the competition that we are trying to get the market share from is.”

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