Wearing the World

Your latest fashion item from the local retail store comes from all over the world, facilitated by the global and intra-regional network of carriers within A.P Moller - Maersk.

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A fifth of the world's cotton comes from West Africa.

When you put on your latest cotton clothing purchase from the local shopping centre, you actually own something that has gone halfway around the world as part of its creation, spanning time zones and international borders. And it is also more than likely that Maersk is involved in this supply chain.

From raw cotton to spun yarn, then fabrics and finally ready-made garments, the production of a piece of clothing requires an intricate network of connectivity because costs, skills and resources are distributed over different geographical regions.

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forty-foot equivalent are carried by Maersk Line from West Africa every year.
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West Africa produces about 750,000 tonnes of cotton a year, equivalent to the weight of two Empire State buildings.

According to Brian Moore, Sales Director from Maersk Line USA, clothing as a commodity is very time sensitive. It is considered
perishable in that it has a limited shelf life, during which it can be sold for full price:

“From the picking of cotton til the final production, there are many handoffs and pre-production movements. All of which, all have to be accomplished smoothly to avoid a diminished return. This all leads to great emphasis on timely delivery with logistics being of great importance,” says Moore.

He sums it up: “A growing number of clothing retailers and importers taking a stronger interest in the pre-production movement of the materials on which their product depends. They may not own the materials by terms of sale but the need for proper handling of the materials is just as important as the finished product.”

A depiction of one of the many cotton supply chains around the world that Maersk is involved in

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1. Half of cotton exports out of West Africa

The story begins in West Africa, a region that accounts for almost a fifth of the world’s cotton. In the cotton fields of Mali and Burkina Faso, almost half a million tons of cotton fibre are produced during the harvesting season between January and September. Bales of cotton are transported via road to port cities in the Ivory Coast, Cameroon and other countries. They are then packed into forty-foot containers and loaded onto Maersk Line and Safmarine vessels. With 20,000 FFE (forty-foot equivalent) carried per annum from West Africa, both carriers under the Group account for about 50% of the West Africa market, servicing about 20 cotton traders.

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2. From yarn to ready-made garments

The cotton travels almost 16,000 km across seas, and is trans-shipped to Vietnam, capping the first leg of the raw materials journey within a month. In Vietnam, the cotton fibre is spun into strands of filaments that comprise yarn. “China used to be a major buyer of cotton, but not anymore. The destination is now Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia,” says Didier Willemse, Commodity Manager for Maersk Line and Safmarine for West Africa.

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Yarn to fabric

The yarn is transported by intra-Asia carrier MCC Transport, mainly to East China, where it is further processed into fabrics, the final step before it is converted into clothes. “Actually, Vietnam can convert yarn to fabric but only in limited capacity. Shipping the yarn over to China is a matter of maximising investment as over the years, the factories that control this part of the supply chain are more established in China.” says Pierre Toon, Country Manager for MCC Transport, Vietnam.

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4. Fabric to branded garments

MCC then ships the finished fabrics back to Southeast Asia destinations such as Bangladesh, to be manufactured into garments which are then branded under familiar fashion labels such as H&M and Mango.

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5. Finished product delivered

Maersk Line concludes by shipping worldwide to major retail destinations such as Europe and the US. Garments are a big business out of Bangladesh, with an estimated 80% of the country’s exports in 2015 attributed to this trade.