Breaking the mould: Sri Lanka ceramics

Wednesday, 9 February 2011 00:14 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A firm favourite to mark any great celebration – such as a Royal wedding or a national event like an Independence anniversary – is commemorative crockery.

From porcelain plates to ornate mugs, historic tiles to decorative ornaments, Sri Lanka has gained a solid reputation in the international market for quality ceramic products.

Sri Lanka’s natural resources give a big boost to this industry. The island is rich in minerals – such as kaolin, ball clay, feldspar, silica quartz and dolomite – which are used in the manufacture of ceramic products.

This allows the industry to enjoy an abundance of raw materials, available at a reasonable cost. The excellent quality and purity of these materials contribute to the high standard of the finished products, which enjoy an international reputation for high quality.

According to the Sri Lanka Ceramics Council, the vast range of pottery products that Sri Lanka exports includes tableware and kitchenware (made of porcelain or china), wall tiles, floor tiles, decorative articles and gifts, ceramic handicrafts, ceramic pipes, conduits, guttering and pipe fittings, sanitary ware (ceramic sinks, washbasins, baths, bidets, etc.), building blocks, flooring blocks and bricks.

The workforce in the industry is skilled and well-educated and includes ceramic designers, chemists, technologists and engineers. Sri Lanka’s main exports markets for the ceramics industry are the UK, the US, Germany, Italy, Canada, Australia, Singapore, France, Japan and the Netherlands.

Sri Lankan ceramic products are very popular in the UK. Walk into any High Street lifestyle store in London and you might be pleasantly surprised at how many ceramics products are ‘Made in Sri Lanka’.

Midaya, the oldest ceramic factory in Sri Lanka, sends 65% of its high quality lines to designers and retailers in the UK. Their list of UK-based customers includes Marks and Spencer, John Lewis and Harrods.

The high quality products they manufacture to order for the UK market allows for mutually beneficial collaboration between the two countries: leading UK creatives come up with designs that meet the needs and desires of the UK market and expert Sri Lankan manufacturers produce the high-quality end product. This is exemplified in Midaya’s flourishing collaboration with the UK home ware designer, Susie Watson. The company has shown itself to be a nimble business, adapting rapidly to changing tastes and market demand. They are also sufficiently flexible to be able to produce short-run, limited edition products, including commemorative ware.

Midaya Managing Director Anura Warnakulasooriya, commented, “I believe we have a good partnership with designers and retailers in the UK because each appreciates the principle of quality and recognises that it must come at a fair price.”

As the Midaya story highlights, the UK-Sri Lanka collaboration does not simply stop with commercial partnerships – creative input plays a part, too. UK designers participated in the Sri Lanka Design Festival held in November 2010, helping Sri Lankan companies, designers and craftsmen to gain exposure to modern international markets. This collegiate sharing of knowledge and expertise benefits both countries.

Midaya is not alone in this successful category. Dankotuwa Porcelain counts Bhs among its main customers. Other ceramic ware manufacturers, such as Lanka Wall Tile and Royal Ceramics, also export to the UK.

With a healthy appetite for Sri Lankan ceramic ware and opportunities for commercial and creative collaboration, who know? An order for crockery to commemorate the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton may well be in the post.

Expert tips

THE ceramics industry provides many opportunities for collaboration between Sri Lanka and the UK. What ingredients have successful companies that export to the UK used to create their winning recipes?

1.Use the available resources. Sri Lanka famously has approximately 75% of the raw materials needed for the manufacture of ceramic products. Successful companies have assessed the available resources and made smart decisions based on calculations of cost.

2.Seek UK collaborators. Collaborating with a UK-based company can help you understand the UK consumer market. Midaya collaborates with the UK designer Susie Watson to manufacture home ware; Dankotuwa Porcelain products are sold at British Home Stores (Bhs).

3.Be flexible, open-minded and creative. If you are open to new ideas, designs, innovations and trends – well, you’ve won half the battle. Tastes change with the times. Keep yourself informed of changes in industry patterns. At the same time, realise that you cater to a wide range of preferences.

For a wealth of information on the practicalities of setting up business in the UK, visit the UK Trade & Investment website at