Lady Gaga and supply chain management shared the spotlight in an inspiring, uplifting presentation at a conference hosted by SAPICS (The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management) in association with SAAFF (the Southern African Association of Freight Forwarders NPC).

Speaking to supply chain professionals who attended the event in Johannesburg, Phil Marais, head of Supply Chain Africa and Brazil at the Cotton On Group, shared details of the retail group’s successful and seamless move to its R300-million new Southern Africa headquarters. He also shared his insights on supply chain optimisation, commended the “impressive construction skills in Africa”, and told attendees about Cotton On’s recent global mental health awareness campaign, in collaboration with Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way Foundation”.

Cotton On’s custom-built new campus is home to the group’s HQ offices and state of the art distribution centre (DC). The campus in Gauteng is geared towards optimising its supply chain and enhancing customer experience. Marais also mentioned that the integration of the HQ and DC teams has fostered an even stronger collaboration between the two key arms of the business which was one of the main reasons to establish campus. Relocating entailed moving 2.2 million units – more than 100 truckloads of stock – from Cotton On’s former premises in Pomona to its new premises, Marais told the SAPICS conference attendees. As a result of tireless planning, execution and diligence, there was little to no impact on the customer experience. 

Situated in the Waterfall Logistics Hub, the 22 000 sqm campus is designed to process 6 000 e-commerce orders per day, 200 000 units to its retail network daily and over 20 million units per year. The DC has been designed to optimise efficiency and features very narrow aisle (VNA) storage and a pick mezzanine for unitised picking for store, wholesale and e-commerce orders.

Cotton On has shifted from a pallet-based DC to one that is carton-based. It has changed the way stock is moved and handled to make it safer, easier and quicker. The distance that pickers travel to pick orders has been reduced by at least one-third. “Pickers are less tired, so they’re able to concentrate better. My facility and my team are safer today than they were two years ago” Marais stated.

He stressed that this project reflects how supply chain teams can influence strategic business priorities.

“The skill level in South Africa was evident in the build – from the successful installation of the very sophisticated flooring to the contractors’ safety and efficiency while operating at a height of 12 metres,” Marais asserted.

He emphasised the importance of change management and said that it had been critical in the transition to the new DC. “Our team needed to understand the benefits of this move. To implement a change in warehousing, one can only be as fast as the slowest adapter,” he told conference delegates.

In his presentation, Marais also reported on Cotton On’s partnership with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (BTW) Foundation , co-founded by Gaga and her mother Cynthia to raise awareness around youth mental health. The BTW Foundation approached Cotton On due to its strong connection and reach with the youth globally. With a shared commitment to improving access to mental health resources, the two organisations came together to create a life-changing range of limited-edition products whereby 100% of the proceeds were donated to provide mental health support for youth in South Africa. The total investment being R2,5 million in South Africa alone, and USD5 million globally.

The next major event on the SAPICS supply chain community’s calendar is the 46th annual SAPICS Conference, which takes place in Cape Town from 9 to 12 June 2024. This important conference is the leading knowledge sharing and networking gathering for the African supply chain community. In 2024, it will be held under the theme “Supply Chain Metamorphosis” and hosted by SAPICS in association with the Southern African Association of Freight Forwarders NPC (SAAFF). More information can be obtained by visiting