In the late-autumn of 2013, numerous journalists from European trade magazines accepted Fruit of the Loom’s invitation to visit its Moroccan production sites. The vertical range of manufacture is particularly impressive. From the delivery of the cotton to the finished product, everything is carried out in-house.
“The Road to Morocco“ – that was the motto of the Fruit of the Loom event – initially brought the participants to the capital of Morocco, Rabat. From here, the production sites – the textile factory and the sales centre in Skhirat and the nearby sewing shops – are easy to reach. First of all, the management outlined the company history and the structure of the company* in well-structured presentations, complemented by presenters and tour guides.
Brand with history
Fruit of the Loom was founded in 1851; its roots lie in the USA. The company is very proud of the fact that its brand was registered even before Coca-Cola and the electric light bulb. From the very beginning, the company set itself the target of achieving outstanding performance through quality, added value, service and a diverse product line-up. Today, Fruit of the Loom operates globally, employs approx. 32,500 employees and produces millions of garments every week. Furthermore, for the past 30 years Fruit of the Loom has established itself as one of the leading brands on the promotional clothes market. Especially the European business sector specialises in the production of T-shirts, sweatshirts and further items of clothing of the independent brands Fruit of the Loom and Russell, which can be individualised and customised.
In the year 2002, Fruit of the Loom became part of the Berkshire Hathaway Group of Warren Buffett. Buffett is one of the most famous businessmen in the world, being part of his holding company guarantees financial security and enables good investment opportunities, as the production in Morocco impressively demonstrates.
Textile centre in Morocco
Fruit of the Loom already opened up a sewing shop in Morocco in 1994. The decision to invest 140 mil. US dollars in a state-of-the-art textile factory in Skhirat, in order to be able to deliver the products to the European market faster and more flexibly, was taken in the year 2005. “First, our senior executives analysed different countries that came into question as production locations,“ reported Brian Kennedy, Vice President of Textiles and Sewing. “The essential criteria were ethical and environmental standards, delivery costs, customs taxes and duties, raw material provision and political and safety risks.“ Ultimately, the decisive factors for choosing Morocco as the production location were its proximity to Europe, the infrastructure, the productivity and labour costs, the freight costs and delivery times, the economic and political stability, the trade agreements with Europe and the USA as well as the support offered by the government.
“The new complex has been specially designed and constructed to serve the European market just in time,” stated Kennedy. “Today Fruit of the Loom can deliver its goods from the arrival of the cotton through to the finished product within four weeks thanks to this production site.“
Production in the huge complex already began mid-2008. The factory is located on a 33-hectare plot of land that is the size of 73 football pitches. The main building alone spans 100,000 m², is 500 m long and thus the second longest onenave building in the whole of Africa, after the Hangar of Salisbury Airport in Zimbabwe.
The location has its own transformer station, an own sewage treatment plant and its own water treatment plant. Kennedy: “We manufacture round the clock in three shifts, seven days a week. Almost 4,000 employees in the production and sewing shops produce over two million garments a week. We deliver more than 100 million textiles to Europe, the Near East, Africa and Russia every year. The new on-site sales and logistics centre has been up and running since March 2012 and enables us to provide an even better service.“
At Fruit of the Loom, great importance is placed on controlling the processes of the vertical textile production under one roof. The main factory of the textile production is divided up into eight zones – from the delivery of the cotton and cotton cleaning, to the spinning area, the yarn warehouse, the knitting area and the material warehouse, through to the dying and cutting shops (see box). Each zone is visible and contains a process control, which guarantees consistent quality at the highest level.
Of course, the safety of the employees is priority number one ahead of the quality; this was already allocated top priority during the designing phase of the complex. For example, the complex has its own fire protection unit that is independent to the public fire brigade due to the high flammability of the cotton – which fortunately has never had to be implemented. The fire protection unit comprises of an own fire station, an own fire engine and a team of firefighters that is constantly on-site. All of the factory systems have fire protection devices. Furthermore, the main building has twelve escape tunnels, which dispose of their own air supply. The tunnels are fire and smoke-proof and enable the workers to leave the building safely in case of an emergency. Nobody in the factory is situated more than 50 m away from an emergency exit.
The main factory of the textile production in Skhirat is divided up into eight zones, each zone is visible. There are process controls in each zone, which are designed to guarantee consistent quality at the highest level.
Zone 1 is the arrival area of the cotton, where 25 container loads full of raw cotton arrive from the USA every month. Every bale has its own data sheet so that the cotton characteristics in terms of quality, colour and optimal mix can always be correctly matched. Because the highest-quality textile clothes are made out of the best raw cotton. All of the company’s products are made out of ethically produced yarn and the majority of its cotton originates from the USA for reasons of quality.
Zone 2 is the cotton-cleaning zone. Here, all possible impurities of the raw cotton or deposits from the packaging are removed. The fibres are prepared for the spinning process, separated and carded.
Zone 3 is the spinning area that comprises of 64 spinning machines. The company has invested strongly in cutting-edge spinning machines. The new Autocoro spinning machines AC08 produce 50% more yarn and save 20% energy consumption.
Zone 4 is the yarn warehouse, where every bale of yarn is weighed and encoded with a barcode. This is scanned so that the whole production team can retain a complete overview of the production in real-time.
Zone 5 is the knitting area, where over 200 knitting machines are constantly in operation. The production of high-quality openend yarn also means that Fruit of the Loom consumes 30% less energy and produces 23% less waste – which is remarkable considering the millions of garments that are manufactured in Morocco.
Zone 6 is the material warehouse.
Zone 7 is the dying shop – 21 jet-dying machines can process up to 25 km of material in every cycle. This enables over two million garments to be produced every week. The dying shop is completely automated. Strict controls ensure that the consistency of the colours of the entire collection is guaranteed. After being dyed, the material is fed onto rollers before drying. This is to secure that the process runs as energy-efficiently as possible.
Zone 8 is the cutting shop, where all cutting work is carried out. The cut material is then sent to one of the four nearby sewing shops, where it is sewn together into the finished piece of clothing. Leftover material from the cutting process is sold for recycling. So, nothing goes to waste.
Fruit of the Loom operates four sewing shops in Morocco, which produce T-shirts, sweatshirts and jogging trousers. Approx. 1,000 employees work at the biggest sewing shop, Fruit 1, in two shifts, six days a week. Kennedy: “We don’t work with the traditional progressive bundler units. Instead, we produce in teams of eight to ten sewers, we call them cells. Within each cell, there is a complex and established system of tasks. Everyone has a specific task to fulfil, before the garment is passed on to the next person. The passing-on process is also optimised so that the number of handling movements until the next task is kept down to a minimum. The process of sewing the garment together carried out by different people of a cell ends with the controller of the respective cell.“ In this way, it is to be ensured that each individual product satisfies the quality standards.
New sales centre
In 2012, a new sales centre was erected in Skhirat, where on a surface measuring 15,000 m² up to 25 mil. garments can be stored. Anton Penn, Senior Vice President Sales, Marketing, Operations and Distributions: “The new sales centre was a true challenge. We worked closely together with our contracted companies in order to do justice to our high demands, i.e. in terms of the environmental and energy-saving and at the same time highly-efficient processes. For example, induction loops are laid into the extremely even floor of the warehouse to enable the fully automatic control of the forklift trucks. Incidentally, these forklift trucks are also equipped with the latest energy technology, comparable with the KERS system of Formula 1 racing cars – here we also orientate ourselves on the highest benchmarks for eco-friendly technology. Together with the new sales centre in Morocco and the other warehouses in Germany and England, we have increased the warehousing capacity up to 50 million garments in total.“
Respect for people and the environment
Numerous certifications prove that fast production doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a negative effect on the quality or the environment or the working conditions of the employees. One of the most important certifications held by the facilities of Fruit of the Loom and of their suppliers is WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production), but also further international audit service providers were commissioned: BSCI, SA 800, ICTI and SMETA/SEDEX. In order to ensure that their upstream suppliers also adhere to the social and ethical principles, Fruit of the Loom upholds close working relations to all of its suppliers and is present on-site in all of the factories, carries out annual independent audits, does spot-the-check audits and senior executives regularly inspect the plants. All factories and production sites have to display and implement the ‘Fruit Code’, Fruit of the Loom’s Code of Conduct. The company applies the same ethical and social standards worldwide.
It is the company’s aim to become the favourite employer in each location, and it implements an equal opportunities policy, which means each employee is paid the same amount of wages for the same work. Eugene Mcllroy, Senior Vice President Human Resources and Manufacturing: “The employees earn more than the minimum wage; many workers earn up to 50% more. In addition, extra benefits such as doctors on-site, transport to and from the factory and prayer rooms on location are standard.“
Fruit of the Loom also supports a host of local projects, including the local orphanage and several underprivileged families. Employee events outside of work hours also inspire a true team spirit. It is therefore not at all surprising that a WRAP audit report from the year 2012 for the sewing shop Fruit 1 documented the fact that the workforce was highly satisfied with its workplace.
Moreover, all textiles of the manufacturer comply with the Oeko-Tex Standard 100. The certificate confirms that the products do not contain any substances that are harmful to people or the environment.
The company’s commitment for the environment is clearly underlined in Morocco: The factory’s wastewater treatment system was even positively evaluated on an international level. The innovative sewage treatment plant cleans the water that is used for the production process. Up to 60% of the water used during the dying process is reused.
There is no doubt about it, the journalists of the European trade magazines were able to convince themselves on-site that the factory in Morocco has obviously helped Fruit of the Loom to consolidate its success in Europe.
* All figures and facts are based on data provided by the company.
Photos: Fruit of the Loom