The work-and protective-wear specialist
Sweet-Orr is a workwear and protective clothing brand based in Cape Town, South Africa. Everyday, thousands of workers wear its products in the local mining and processing companies, in the petrochemical industry, in engineering, aircraft and automotive production, in many different emergency services and in medicine. The company Sweet-Orr South Africa relies on Gerber Technology’s
Sweet-Orr develops, manufactures and distributes two-piece work suits, work coats, trousers and tops and overalls – in very hardwearing cotton, top 13 oz. denim fabrics from Lesotho, and materials with fire-and acid-resistant treatments. Stretch fabrics are sometimes also used, notably in womenswear. In addition, the work-and protective-wear specialist offers consultancy services and fulfil orders from governments to meet specific requirements to prescribed specifications and quantities. They have also earned a name for themselves for their customer support in the field of certification and regulation.
The management team counts on John Jacobs, his son John Denver Berman-Jacob and daughter Vanessa Govender. The company claim is “We never let you down”, an ambitious pithy marketing promise to its customers. But the brand’s reputation confirms that this mission statement is consistently achieved – after all, it affects the health and wellbeing of people employed in working environments with the potential for all kinds of risks. “In this field there is zero tolerance for error, plain and simple” is the rigorous position of managing director John Jacobs. It applies as much to clothing for healthcare staff, which needs to be proof against contamination with pathogens even after frequent washing at high temperatures, as it does to protective clothing for workers operating a furnace. For this reason, wide-ranging material and processing tests in the company’s own laboratories form a critical element of every development and manufacturing process.
Cooperation with Gerber Technology
Such measures are essential but represent high costs in the face of massive competition with Asian imports. «We face them – executive director Denver Berman-Jacob, explains – through a careful and demanding attitude towards technology, and through the use of high-performance cutting software from the product design stage through to production».
Sweet-Orr South Africa relies on Gerber Technology’s pattern making, grading and marker making software AccuMark in its product development and cutting systems. The workwear manufacturer is a long time enduring client of Gerber. The collaboration started during the 1980s, was carried on in the 1990s and is still working well.
In fact, where the legendary S-93 Gerber cutter once stood, the finest high-tech equipment is now in use: three generations of cutters later, today’s Paragon range from Gerber Technology offers reliability and precision with full data transparency regarding to material performance, efficiency, overall workflow and much more thanks to hundreds of sensors. Throughput times are generally 10 days but can be just 5 days “in an emergency”. At the cutting stage Gerber spreaders and multiple ply cutters are used daily: two cutters type Paragon® process heavyweight denim and canvas fabrics precisely prepared in high-ply layers by the Xls Spreader, working tension-free for an average daily output of 3,500 ready pieces of garments.
The principle, as set out by Denver Berman Jacob, of “keeping step with technology, or preferably staying one step ahead of it”, is consistently followed in the sewing room, in the use of machines and semi-automated equipment, in operator training or in producing the triple-lapped seams. A philosophy also for Sweet-Orr’s 300 employees.
Beetween tradition and innovation
According to a 2014 New York Times’s report, there are some indications that Sweet-Orr was the first commercial denim manufacturer to make trousers with rivet-reinforced pockets. But regardless of whether it is, Levi Strauss or Sweet & Orr, a true hype is developing around the authentic workwear South African provenance: at first, it was fashionistas in Japan, the original parts from previous collections to absolute favorite pieces declared, these at top prices at auction. Then the fashion bloggers discovered the workwear explained the authenticity and lasting longevity of Sweet Orr parts in the mix and match to the fashionable non-plus ultra.
Vanessa Govender, responsible for Product Development, talks about the incubator for the new, concentrated “Heritance” line: «The separate product development office creates the parts for the new Sweet Orr casual brand – she says – which follows the classic ‘Ace of Spades’ program of the 1930s. This project is targeting the growing audience of a new consumer type that values authenticity and sustainability over disposable fashion».
Keeping tradition and entrepreneurial heritage in mind, whilst at the same time recognising, taking up and responding professionally to market requirements and future trends – that is what makes the spirit of Sweet-Orr. In three years’ time, when the company’s 150th anniversary takes place, the aim is to have conquered a new and additional market segment – in Africa and beyond.