One of Barbados’ oldest garment manufacturing companies is fighting for survival, and the threat it is facing is coming from outside the island.
A top official at the River Bay Trading Company, which has been operating for 34 years, says sales of polo shirts and T-shirts have dropped significantly, due to competition from products out of Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic. The T-shirts from the Dominican Republic, described by local manufacturers as of inferior quality, each cost up to $1.50 less than those produced in Barbados.
Joint owner and director of the Wildey, St Michael-based company, Ian Pickup, also pointed to what he cited as a discrepancy with polo shirts from Trinidad and Tobago.
“When it started off, it didn’t appear to be having too much of an effect, because the garments weren’t coming in large quantities; but after an investigation by the Barbados Customs late last year they determined the products were made in the Dominican Republic and the floodgates have opened.
“Many of our regular customers for T-shirts [such as] large companies, organizations, [organizers of] events, and so, on have switched to purchasing these T-shirts because they are cheaper than ours,” he said, noting that his company employed 45 people.
“In a company like ours, which makes several different types of garments, it’s the T-shirt business that keeps a good cash flow, enabling us to pay our wages and purchase our raw material; because T-shirts are fast to manufacture and easy to turn over.”
Issues relating to the Trinidad and Tobago product were raised with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry since late 2010, but Pickup said he had “not seen any significant progress”.
“We’re getting to a situation now where it’s make or break, and something has to be done,” he said.
According to the businessman, the situation stems from the fact that T-shirts were not included in the list of items given protection during trade negotiations between CARICOM and the Dominican Republic.
The problems facing River Bay Trading Company have been taken up by the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association (BMA). Executive director Bobbi McKay described the situation as “criminal”, and accused some former manufacturers of involvement.
“T-shirts are flooding our market from the Dominican Republic right now, and I’m not talking about hundreds; I’m talking about thousands of T-shirts for rallies and walks, and every kind of parade you can think of. Large companies that have more than 100 staff are now buying these T-shirts,” she revealed during this morning’s launch of May Day celebrations at Solidarity House.
“This creates a risk for the local company, and these are Barbadians who can and will be out of work if this practice continues.”
The BMA boss defended the quality of T-shirts produced in the country, stating they were world-class.
And, McKay warned that this situations like this could lead to job losses in the sector, possibly seeing a rise in crime –– which would also affect tourism and other industries.