Teaching hospitals attached to universities are fairly common in most countries, but a teaching textile factory is quite rare.

In Kenya, a textile facility that seemed to have reached its heyday in the years before the 2005 Multi-Fiber Agreement came into effect, only to collapse and be placed under receivership until 2007, when it was acquired by Moi University in Eldoret, Western Kenya, has emerged as an educational facility for training textile engineers.

“Rivatex East Africa Limited was established in 1976 and it operated effectively and profitably up until the early 1990s when the textile industry was adversely affected by the rapid structural and institutional changes precipitated by economic liberalization policies,” said Thomas Kipkurgat, managing director of Rivatex, as well as director of international relations at Moi University.

By the mid-Nineties, the protected domestic market shifted to a more liberalized environment.

“The textile industry in Kenya was badly hit because it was not ready for competition from the established and modern technology in other parts of the world,” he continued.

Instead of shutting down Rivatex, in 2007 industry stakeholders saw the potential in annexing the facility to the university.

There is no conflict between Rivatex functioning as a research facility and a fully operational textile factory, according to Kipkurgat.

“Rivatex’s broad mandate is on training, research, consultancy and extension services, especially in the area of textile manufacturing,” he said. “The company has been expanding its attachment enrollment for students at the university and college levels since its inception.”

As part of Moi University, Rivatex now provides expert support, training, extension and research opportunities to the staff and trainees. Kipkurgat said, “Notable research includes value addition to cotton and cotton byproducts, renewable energy and production of natural dyes for fabric-finishing.”

Simultaneously, Rivatex operates as a vertically integrated textile mill with spinning, weaving and wet processing operations.

“The company manufactures textile products from cotton and cotton-blend fibers where the process starts from yarn manufacture by spinning,” he said. “Then the yarn is processed by weaving, which interlaces yarns into fabric. Coloration — dyeing and printing — is done at the wet processing department, which imparts the necessary aesthetics on the fabric.”

Important services from support departments like engineering, human resources, finance and procurement are essential to these operations proceeding smoothly and efficiently. Moreover, the company has ventured into the process of value addition and product diversification through the establishment of a tailoring department.

Describing further the relationship between Rivatex and Moi University, Kipkurgat said the partnership “has fostered the operationalization of backward integration where the company is benefiting from technology transfer regarding the cultivation of rain-fed and irrigated cotton.”

A key innovation resulting in the partnership between the textile factory, the university and the research platform it has created is the invention of TAMI Dye.

“It was developed from the Marigold Tagetes Minutas weed by Moi University vice chancellor and professor Richard Mibey,” explained Kipkurgat. “The invention has lowered the cost of importing dyes for the manufacture of fabrics. This in turn has lowered the cost of production.”

Adding that “the textile production processes consume huge volumes of water, wood fuel, dyes and energy that hinder our company from achieving its growth targets due to the high cost of electricity and dyes,” he said Rivatex recently began “focusing on undertaking research and investment in the area of renewable energy in order to cut down on production costs.”

Phytotextiles — phytochemicals in textiles — is another area the company is embracing. The World Bank recently granted funding amounting to 600 million Kenyan shillings, or $5.9 million, for Moi University to give Rivatex a major facelift that will include, according to the university’s director of research, Simeon Kipkoech Mining, Rivatex receiving “new machinery and technology that will make it a regional center of excellence. This will enhance research and dissemination of knowledge in phytochemical textiles and renewable energy.”

The university and Rivatex have also forged significant partnerships with several international institutions. The establishment and operationalization, for example, of the textile laboratory housed at Rivatex “was supported by the collaboration with the Flemish Interuniversity Council for Development Cooperation in Belgium.”

Other international collaborations include Indiana University and Oklahoma University in the U.S., Busitema University in Uganda, Alexandria University in Egypt, and, most recently, Donghua University in China.

The collaboration with Shanghai-based Donghua University in 2015 led to the launch of the Confucius Institute at Rivatex.

“The linkage with Donghua University, it is anticipated, will train students in fashion and design within the tailoring department,” said Kipkurgat.

Jointly operated by Donghua and Moi universities, the collaboration has enhanced capacity, skills transfer in textile engineering and fashion design, as well as creating a communication platform of bridging cooperation and establishing relationship between the Kenyan and Chinese governments.

“[International collaborations are] very important in the implementation of the Vision 2030 industrialization goals,” said Kipkurgat.

Visions 2030 is operated by Kenya’s Ministry of Industry, Investment and Trade and underlines the role of the manufacturing sector in creating employment and wealth.

The sector’s overall goal is to increase its contribution 10 percent per annum to gross domestic product through Vision 2030.

Various interventions have been proposed in the Vision to lead Kenya — a country with a population of over 45 million — toward global competitiveness and prosperity.  According to the World Bank, Kenya’s GDP was at $60.94 billion in 2014 and growth was estimated at 5.4 percent in 2015.

World Bank country director for Kenya Diarietou Gaye said, “Kenya’s textile and apparel sector has the potential to grow, increase its contribution to GDP and serve as a source of gainful employment for its fast-growing, young population.”

The African Growth and Opportunity Act has been particularly beneficial to Kenya. For the period 2010 to 2014, the Export Processing Zone Authority said Kenya’s AGOA exports, employment and investment grew 17 percent, 12 percent and 21 percent per year, respectively, taking up a third of all apparel exports from Sub-Saharan Africa to the U.S. In the textile and apparel sector, Kenyan exports to the U.S. fell slightly in 2014 to $277.8 million from $282.9 million in 2013.