Workwear that won’t let you down
Workwear that won’t let you down
In some jobs, making even a single mistake can have disastrous consequences. In the personal protective equipment industry, where workers operate in hazardous conditions daily, it is essential that every step meets the highest quality standards.
“In a field like ours, you have to be dedicated to quality. Our customers trust us to put their safety first and we have to live up to that trust, every single day,” says Sweet-Orr & Lybro CEO John Jacobs.
The company, which was founded in 1871 in Wappingers Falls, New York, made the bold move to establish offices in booming South Africa – diversifying the business in the wake of the Great Depression. In partnership with UK brand Lybro, Sweet-Orr & Lybro was launched with offices in Woodstock, Cape Town. In 1969, Sweet-Orr opened its current 5500 m2 premises in Elsie’s River.
It was the first manufacturer in South Africa to triple-stitch lapsed seams and incorporate hemmed pockets and bar-tacked stress points – innovations that further strengthen garments and prevent rips or tears that could catch on machinery and cause serious harm.
And in 1978, Sweet-Orr became the first local clothing manufacturer to be awarded the coveted South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) mark bearing certification SANS 434.
Alongside a single-minded focus on quality, Sweet-Orr & Lybro is also a company that takes family values to heart. Founded by a family of Irish immigrants 150 years ago, it is now once again owned and run by family – in this case Jacobs, his wife and children.
Employees, suppliers and clients are all treated as part of the same family, sharing the same goals as well as a commitment to skills development, staff education and training. Sweet-Orr has an in-house training academy whose graduates are employed within the company. It is also registered with the Fibre Processing & Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority (FP&M SETA) and offers learnership programmes under the auspices of the SETA.
“It’s so important that South African companies make sure that opportunities are available to employees from all walks of life, especially in areas like Elsie’s River, where many families still live in poverty. We see ourselves as part of the Elsie’s community and are proud to provide good jobs here,” says Jacobs.
The fruits of this approach are shown by the loyalty of its staff. The average length of service at Sweet-Orr is 25 years, with one recent staff member celebrating 40 years of service prior to retirement.
The company has always embraced diversification. Starting out, it focused on the mining industry, but its customers are now also found in the petrochemicals, engineering, automotive, hospitality and healthcare industries, as well as in the military.
While continuously expanding its client base and product range, the company has moved from being a traditional single-channel sales business towards a multi-channel sales business with a robust e-commerce presence – including Takealot, e-commerce and retail.
Sweet-Orr currently distributes garments across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region as well as in the United Arab Emirates. It is also looking into agreements with other countries in Africa and has re-entered the United States market.
“As one of South Africa’s oldest manufacturers of protective workwear, being able to once again serve the very country where we once originated is incredibly exciting. Making the circle complete is a tremendous feat,” says executive director Denver Berman-Jacob.