From a small start-up in 2001, South Africa’s belt design-house-manufacturer, Equator – The Belt Factory™, named after Earth’s favourite belt, has seen consistent growth over 18 years to become a leading South African belt company.

New Germany, SA – Equator recently moved from Pinetown to a new 4 000+m² facility (previously a Frame Textiles fabric mill), which it has retrofitted to target a 4-star Green Star Certification for Existing Buildings, as part of its overall sustainability and ethical-producer journey. “We can’t prove it definitively, but we believe we’re one of the greenest belt factories in the world”, said Marc Pozniak, Operations Director. “Our American affiliates, Randa (the world’s biggest Men’s accessory company) engages with belt factories on every continent and they fully applaud this initiative as setting the new benchmark in our industry. We remain a South African business – but we have access to incredible knowledge and global trends. All our growth is funded organically and internally, so we take it one step at a time”.

The submission for certification will be submitted to the Green Building Council of South Africa once all initiatives have been tested and twelve months of operating data have been captured. Equator’s sustainability consultants, Ecolution Consulting, are assisting them to target the certification and work towards achieving the initiatives and performance needed to qualify. “So far, we’re on track” indicates Andre Harms of Ecolution Consulting. “Becoming an ethical factory, and a sustainable company, is a complex endeavour. The check-list, as with any compliance, is long and arduous”, said Equator Managing Director, Leon Buhr. “In fact, Green is just one element of being sustainable and sustainable is just one element of being ethical; so we are taking a fairly multi-pronged approach around the building; it being green, our energy consumption, a productive work environment, air-quality, landscaping, VOCfree paints and furnishings, and ultimately throwing the net further and further in terms of pushing our suppliers to comply with ethical production and green facilities. Thankfully leading companies around the world are driving down this same path. Long-term we don’t see any other way, really”.

“We were warned by our consultants that being green is a bandwagon. The first thing other manufacturers do when they see you are green is they jump on the bandwagon and claim sustainability – but it is so much more than a couple of Jojo tanks and a solar geyser and it costs money and time. We’re encouraged by how the Equator team have embraced the journey – without them it is not possible, and it has been a steep learning curve for all of us. It requires real and on-going engagement by everybody in the company”.

While it was Equator’s intention to ultimately use this as a differentiator to export to other markets, they have been overwhelmed by the response from retailers and brands in Australia, Europe and North America seeking them out since they announced their plans. “The export enquiries are surprising. We just never dreamt it would resonate to this extent. Our export deliveries have gone well and with some export customers we’re onto our third repeats on a style”, said Michelle Kaczmarczyk – Product Developer, Export Division. “This season we have been very busy entertaining export enquiries from several countries. They have all come to us – we haven’t even actively gone out to seek export customers yet. The opportunities are there. But ultimately while green opens the door – your product and materials innovation must be world class”. Unless you target to be world class in several aspects, the overseas retailers and brands cannot be sustained business. Overarching the factory move, which took 16 months of intense planning, is the implementation of LEAN manufacturing as a building block and underlying ethos at Equator.

To satisfy its broad customer base and brands, Equator doesn’t manufacture everything it designs and supplies – but local production is the vast bulk of their output and has grown each year since 2010. “We envisage it continuing to do so, even for the domestic market. We originally planned to move to a bigger facility in 2020, but in early 2017 we couldn’t cope at the old premises anymore, and started the planning process for this facility”, say Buhr. We have a team that focuses on production excellence. It’s all about product.

Watch the space to find out how Equator – The Belt Factory™, is setting the benchmark in design-house-manufacture and cementing its vision of being known as a place of craft and and a place of science.

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