17/01/2018 – Gerber Technology in Africa — auf Deutsch lesen

The core of Sweet-Orr, Cape Town

We are sitting with the management team in the Cape Town conference room of Sweet-Orr and looking around at the beaming faces.


Needs-focused workwear and protective clothing in all its variety © yhf


Maximum accuracy and efficiency in cutting: Two Paragon machines manage the demands of the entire daily output of extra-hardwearing materials and specialised fabrics © yhf

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We have been invited by father John Jacobs, son John Denver Berman-Jacob and daughter Vanessa Govender for a conversation and a look behind the scenes into the core of their model business, which extends across an area of over 5,500 square metres.

Thousands of workers wear it – Sweet-Orr's workwear and protective clothing – day in, day out in the local mining and processing companies, in the petrochemical industry, in engineering, aircraft production and the automotive sector, in many different emergency services and in medicine: at present chiefly in South Africa but also in Namibia and to a far smaller extent in the Gulf States of the Middle East. In terms of sales, Sweet-Orr & Lybro (Pty) Ltd represents the country's strongest brand in its market sector.

 It develops, manufactures and distributes, wholesale or direct to employers, 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 specialists offer 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.

“We never let you down”

“We never let you down” is the manufacturer’s pithy marketing promise to its customers. Ambitious, no doubt, but the brand’s reputation and feedback from its customers confirms that this ambitious 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;” that 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, both in the creation of prototypes and then in mass production.

 Such measures are undoubtedly essential but they represent high and frequently recurring costs in the face of massive competition with Asian imports. Executive Director Denver Berman-Jacob, who is responsible for future strategies in the company, answers our question as to how it tackles the increasing cost pressures: “Through our careful and demanding attitude towards technology, and through the use of high-performance cutting software from the product design stage through to production; where maximum efficiency and precision in cutting are concerned, we are extremely well equipped.”

High-tech at its finest

Right from the start, therefore, Sweet-Orr South Africa relies on Gerber’s AccuMark in its product development and cutting design, whether it is for individual special orders or for mass production – and that includes grading and marker making. Managing Director John Jacobs is full of praise for the user-friendliness of the cutting software and for the close and reliable cooperation he has received from Gerber’s partner business Intamarket, which from its base on the East Coast not only advises and guides CAD/CAM customers in Johannesburg and Durban, but also maintains a sales and service office in the Western Cape: “Allan, Celeste Mark and all of the application specialists are just a phone call away, if we have queries or problems.” And so at the cutting stage, too, we run into Gerber spreaders and multiple ply cutters. In the production facility today, two Paragons are processing the tension-free batches of heavyweight denim and canvas fabrics precisely prepared by the Xls Spreader, for an average daily output of 3500 items. At the place where, during the 1980s and well into the 90s, 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 not only reliability and precision but also full data transparency with regard to material performance, efficiency, overall workflow and much more, all calculated with the aid of hundreds of sensors. All of this is explained to us by the company’s managers on our tour. Throughput times are generally 10 days but can be just 5 days “in an emergency”.

 And 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 – be it in the sewing room, in the use of machines and semi-automated equipment, in operator training or in producing the triple-lapped seams.

 The integration of up-to-date technology and tools is a company tradition, also with respect to safety and ergonomics – and the wellbeing of its 300 employees, 150 of them in the Sweet-Orr sewing room alone.

 All of this pays off: the reputation of the workwear brand is high and business is good. The brand’s presence at A+A in Düsseldorf in October 2017 may be regarded as a return to the international market.


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.

by Yvonne Heinen