Sri Lanka apparel industry tackles sizeable challenges

Wednesday, 17 November 2010 01:38 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Leading figures in Sri Lanka’s garment industry continue to invest in building a manufacturing nation viewed as both green and ethical by international buyers.

The country’s Export Development Board (EDB) has been delivering the message to key fashion brands at the Sri Lanka Design Festival (SLDF) in Colombo over the past few days.

Brand representatives from Topshop, Ted Baker, Marks & Spencer and Asos have been taken to ‘showcase’ eco-factories by leading manufacturers including MAS Holdings and Brandix. The factory visits were followed up by business-to-business meetings between buyers and suppliers.

Sri Lanka’s Garments Without Guilt campaign, first launched in 2006, now certifies 135 of the country’s 200 garment factories. Garments represent 45% of Sri Lanka’s total exports.

However, the country’s textile and apparel exports contracted 5.6% last year amid falling demand from key Western markets, according to a report from the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The European Union also removed the country’s GSP+ (Generalised System of Preferences) status in August this year, making some apparel products more expensive to European retailers.

Nevertheless, apparel exports have rebounded to 6% growth this year, as demand returns and the country moves on from the recent setbacks of a civil war climax and the 2004 tsunami.

Apparel makers in the country are now hoping their commitment to environmentally-friendly factories pays off.

MAS, the main sponsor of SLDF, looked to impress buyers with a tour around its MAS Intimates Thurulie plant, which opened two years ago after a tie-up with UK retailer Marks & Spencer, which was looking to meet its own green targets.

The plant, which is one of 34 factories MAS has in Sri Lanka, uses 40% less energy and 50% water than a regular factory.

MAS Intimates’ manager of sustainability and communications, Vidhura Ralapanawe, played a key part in the design of the site, which includes moveable grid lighting, solar power and evaporative cooling using harvested rain water.

“We have transferred many of the systems into newly built factories,” he told just-style.

“Making our buildings more sustainable makes good business and financial sense, but also helps us to strengthen our relationship with key consumers.”

Indeed, MAS also has green factory supply deals with Nike and Adidas in similar carbon-cutting measures. Other manufacturing giants in Sri Lanka, including Brandix and Hirdaramani, have also invested in green factories.

Ralapanawe adds: “Collectively we have been able to lift our standard up, and that is a great thing.”

Therefore, Sri Lanka’s leading manufacturers appear to be on the same page when it comes to the adopting a green strategy across the board.

But it must continue this co-operation through a full rollout of Garments Without Guilt and green plants for the ethical branding of the nation to fully resonate.

This is where a small island like Sri Lanka can use size to its advantage, because it is manageable enough to support compliance and sustainability at every factory in the land – surely a simple task compared to ending 30 years of civil war.

Should it succeed, Western buyers will need no invitation to come back. (