Sri Lanka has a history of textile and apparel manufacture that goes back to prehistoric times. The apparel industry got a boon in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the prevailing government made policy changes that made a marked change in the apparel manufacture industry in Sri Lanka. Subsidies and tax breaks were given to Sri Lanka’s fledgling apparel industry, and factories were opened at a rapid rate. Sri Lanka’s foreign export paradigm shifted from the world’s best tea to high quality garments, and the industry has not looked back since.
From the inception, Sri Lankan manufacturers knew that they could not succeed by competing on price with Asian giants India and China. This small island nation needed something extra to ensure that it carves its own niche in the global apparel market. Apparel manufacturers learnt to shun the status quo – “Sell as many clothes as possible for as little cost as possible” – and convert to “Sell the best quality clothing in the most ethical and efficient manner possible”. The evidence of the shift is visible in Sri Lanka and its apparel buyers alike.
Travel to any garment factory in Sri Lanka, and you will find a happy workforce using efficient methods and processes while reducing wastage and pollution. The positive impact garment factories have had on rural areas is nothing short of miraculous. Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, infrastructure development, and fair staff promotion policies have changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of those who were destined to live in poverty otherwise. Sri Lankan apparel manufacturers take pride in sourcing their raw material from ethical producers, and strive to ensure that the supply chain is as clean as possible.
Sri Lanka’s focus on high quality garments has garnered the attention of not just high-street clothing retailers, but also designer brands. GAP, Diesel, Victoria’s Secret, Nike, Next, and Marks & Spencer are among brands that source their top-of-the-line garments from Sri Lankan manufacturers.
Sri Lanka is located just south of India, and has the potential to be a major transport hub in the near future. The opening of a large harbour in the country’s south, an important and strategic location in shipping routes from Europe to East Asia and vice versa, has given an impetus to the country’s already successful apparel industry.
What does this mean for investors and businesses looking for opportunities in the apparel industry? It means that Sri Lanka already has a solid infrastructure in place for businesses, that garment manufacturers are treated well by both the government and the people, that there already is an experienced skilled workforce, and that the industry keeps on growing, making it the ideal country in which to invest your money and your time. The rewards will speak for themselves.