Can we start the conversation with the significant changes taken place in the Sri Lankan apparel industry over the years?
The industry initially benefitted greatly from the protection of the quota system. At that time we were importing all of our inputs. Throughout our growth phase the country was faced with the effects of the conflict. A crucial factor in our success was that in spite of the domestic situation, the industry gained a reputation for being a reliable supplier. This consistency and the willingness to invest and re-invest to support the changing needs of buyers gained the attention and the trust of some of the world's best brands.
As the industry's importance to the national economy grew, the Government of Sri Lanka also gave us tremendous backing. The formation of JAAF (Joint Apparel Association Forum) bringing together the entire industry as one voice was perhaps the most pivotal decision made by the industry for its continued success. Established to promote industry-wide strategic initiatives, the industry came together under JAAF to propose a strategy to survive beyond the quota regime. The Forum has since been instrumental in guiding the industry's vision.
Do you think that change in generations has produced more international players who are prepared to compete globally, especially with the emergence of new retail channels including e-commerce, m-commerce and social media? Can you elaborate on it?
I believe it has been a case of gradual evolvement for both the retailers and manufacturers alike. The advent of new digital media trends has indeed transformed the entire landscape of retail selling, where companies are adapting to this global phenomenon and expanding their retail channels to meet the growing demands. With information being so easily accessible, consumers are becoming more and more demanding for things such as social compliance, environmental preservation etc. As a manufacturer, we too are aware of this new trend and have been investing heavily into the new generation's thought process.
European economies are showing signs of stabilizing and the US economy is waking up. Did it make any change in the prospects of Sri Lankan garment industry?
We are fortunate that with all the turmoil around us amongst the markets and the other supply bases, the conditions in our country have changed for the better since 2009. With the end of the civil war and with other supplier nations facing cost escalations and labour disputes, our industry capitalized on the stable environment and reputation as a reliable and compliant supplier. We felt the price pressures of the buyers but the orders were not necessarily impacted by much.
As an industry, we also continue to work together to strategize for the future. The country lacks the kind of scale to successfully compete with the larger more populated countries with a textile base. And we cannot be cheaper. We have therefore worked with the Government to enact legislature to facilitate a more regional role - to offer niche products, more front-end and value added services whilst looking at the region for scaling up manufacturing capacity.
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