Sri Lanka Design Festival unveils theme for 2016: Transformation

Monday, 26 September 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Q: When you say the theme for this year’s design festival is ‘Transformation’, what do you mean? 

Well, time and time again all industries reach a tipping point where strategies and operational models are challenged and start to untitled-5lack a transformative change and then they often become obsolete. Even large corporates, complacent in their success, lack agility to adapt to changing business environments, fail to reinvent themselves and then perish. Stronger, faster, innovative players take control of the market and thrive to ride the wave of change. 

So for Sri Lanka, we see this as now, because we have many industries that are set and facing many challenges today; they need to transform and there is no other way. They need a new way of thinking and this is not in a small incremental way, but rather in quantum leaps with new strategies. This is what we are trying to deliver through the forums and the shows this year. 

Q: What difference will we see have at the event? 

Well this year the biggest difference you will see is the number of industries involved with the event. So, while strengthening our long-standing design and innovation agenda and the work we do with the apparel industry, we are also collaborating with other industries including hospitality and manufacturing sectors such as furniture, jewellery and even the software sector catering to user experience design etc. These collaborations that we develop, showcase and launch at SLDF will of course go beyond the event too. 

Similar to the work we do with the apparel industry, the end outcome will be using design to up their product, grow and compete globally. These industries have been asking us for design and to collaborate with them for a long time and finally this year we are using Sri Lanka Design Festival as a platform and going ahead. 

Q: You mentioned that there a number of challenges that Sri Lankan industries are facing that you’re trying to look at – what are these?

Today, Sri Lankan industrialists face a multitude of pressures and mainly stemming from the changing consumer landscape externally which they or anyone else has no control over. This demands for a different set of resources internally. As I said before, these are not small changes, they are dramatic changes and these changes are surrounding us all and are taking place at exponential speed that’s quite scary. Growth will only be possible through a transformative change in how business is conducted.  

This year we are really focusing on crafting all our content at the forums to the strategies we are executing at the shows, to give the best insights to our industry and we are also bringing in the best breed of thought leaders from around the world that we can access on to share their experiences on how creative disruption and innovation can help reinvent and transform our businesses here in Sri Lanka.

Q: From a Sri Lankan point of view you have really leveraged the digital side of things and dived into E-commerce with Fashion – what are your thoughts on that side of things? 

Our experience and work in the digital domain has changed everything for us in terms of the way we look at things. I personally feel that I live between two worlds – it’s not a choice, but it’s a necessity to stay relevant. 85% of our customer base on that I launched, are international and I have realised that digital can deliver if you know what you’re doing in it. Again more than ever before, we have seen the cyber social landscape explode with growth.  Over a billion people can be connected to a single social platform at a given moment in time now. This is a powerful proposition for any designer or design thinker. Exceptional product design that appeal to a global customer really works and is also rewarded with not only sales but in this social space which has no boundaries; they are rewarded with likes, shares, emotions and comments creating celebrities overnight and brand successors overnight. This is the power of design in the digital age. With such power, the only barrier to international growth becomes your mind and creative ability to sense design for emotional engagement. As the digital landscape matures fast, the power of design can only move in one direction; and that is by increasing the edge that defines one’s market relevance.  Having been in design and built it here in Sri Lanka from nothing, it would be the most sensible thing for us to do at the moment by helping our industries leverage this.  

Q: You spoke about thought leadership discussions? What can we expect? 

Some of the topics we plan to discuss are around the consumer landscape and how that’s affecting everything. Retailers that have done well in the past and unfortunately been traditional are struggling. Others who come from nowhere are disrupting the entire chain and that in return is affecting us all. So we think our industries need to know what’s going on globally, to a greater extent. The topics we will be exploring are about disruption, disorientation, displacement, disconnection, distortion and how the new millennial customer is driving it all. 

We are looking at possibilities like how manufacturing will be replaced by 3D printing in the future and how hyper-loop technology will replace ground transportation, digital retail will dominate and maybe seamstresses might be uberised? Who knows? Designs will be customised and 3D printed at home and possibilities are endless. How can industry transform to survive the fourth industrial revolution? This will be one big theme throughout. 

We will also be getting thought leaders who survived the game to share; one such fashion brand we have invited will share their story on how they stayed relevant by transforming and reinventing themselves over and over again throughout the years and in fact have remained relevant in the mind-set of an evolving 22 year old customer who is their target market. They will share how they have made mass customisation on basics work and how a vertically integrated business model, staying focused on their niche and customised basics for the key demographic have helped them build and stay a successful brand. How can Sri Lanka’s manufacturing units be transformed from the typical line-based manufacturing model to a more agile model to deliver to this kind of model?

Q: Are there any role models for Sri Lanka in all of this?

We are getting some experts in China to share some insider information with our industry on how they are continuing to be a big force as a threat and an opportunity, always in constant flux but continuing to make its mark. Two fashion experts working on the inside with China share their intimate knowledge, insights of a thriving export industry and growing domestic market and how everything ‘design’ is leveraged on to the new now.

We are also getting a key speaker from Coats who has been supporting Sri Lanka’s apparel industry like no other. They are the world’s largest maker of threads and trace their roots to the middle of the 18th Century. But longevity and size alone did not ensure their survival into the 21st Century. With an unparalleled global footprint, Coats continues to service their customers as they reshape the supply chain for fast fashion and just-in-time deliveries. 

And as they innovate to develop ‘clever thin lines’ to be used in high-end training shoes to conductive thread in wearable electronics, the company is preparing for a day that ‘joining’ technology may become obsolete and a company who thinks in this manner we will have lessons to learn. 

We will be getting some of our own industry fresh thinkers to talk about rethinking talent, culture, business models because with customers increasingly at the epicentre of the economy, physical products and services are enhanced with digital capabilities to increase their value while new technologies make assets more durable and resilient, while data and analytics are transforming how they are maintained. 

With the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, finally, it means that talent, culture, and organisational forms will have to be rethought and this is a big topic for our industries today. 

We are also looking at other industries and lessons we can learn from industries such as the Automotive Industry and how they have been in the forefront of every industrial revolution, from mechanised production to mass production to automation leveraging electronic and information technology. Now internet companies are entering the vehicle market with self-driven cars and millennials who shun asset ownership will opt for an Uber. 

The fully functional car is to be 3D printed in the next seven to eight years. How would the automotive industry cope with these changes? We are looking to our partners DIMO who partner us on the Mercedes Benz Fashion Runways hosted as part of Sri Lanka Design Festival, to help us deliver this topic with some international speakers.

Q:  How does design fit in to all of this? You’ve been working with design for the last 15 years: Right now everyone is talking about design – from where is this all coming? 

In short, I think suddenly all our industries are beginning to realise that they need to think in terms of design if they want to grow and compete globally. At the same time, they are hearing ‘Design thinking’ coming up everywhere and know that its next big thing to grab on to. 

Q: How are you responding to all this and the sudden demand for design and designers? 

From an AOD standpoint we have the closest relationships with the industry and from setting collaborative projects with them for their buyers, to advising them on product design to actually giving them the designers they need – we are involved in it all. AOD I think is in a very unique place and will be more so in the next 10 years where the skill ‘design’ will be considered the most sought after. 

Today, even if you go to an IT conference or a conference in finance you hear the topic of ‘design thinking’ being discussed in a big way. Even management reads like the Harvard Business Review to most others are talking about ‘design’ as part of the future.  

Q: So with all of this – what have you got lined up for the apparel industry? 

That’s a very big story for us as we have been working with the apparel industry since 2009 and they have worked closely with us on Sri Lanka Design festival throughout. This year we are working almost all the companies and showcasing a whole new proposition. It’s been long been off the radar that Sri Lanka apparel is a cheap apparel manufacturing destination and currently so industry has been ahead of the game and looked at design and innovation before other industries I would say. 

But now, they have been forced to re-think their business models and get out of volume producing all the time and really leverage value creation. Of course, this is not a new concept for industry. They have been talking about it for years but have been doing it for western brands only, adding value to the designs and production. 

However the next growth will not come from the western brands as they will seek new manufacturing countries, which offer cheaper solutions. This is where value creation will have a new meaning in the future. The concept of going from B2B to B2C will have to be part of a solution. 

Currently people who own brands are buying our factories and producing. Our proposition explores strategising, designing and manufacturing brands of our own and aiming them at the global consumer. Reversing the game and harvesting the margins, reengineering the current business models and aiming for a new model for the future. It is now time to create a platform to inspire all Sri Lankan key players across all sectors, from design schools to artisans, from industry to export by showcasing the new growth story of Sri Lanka in the fashion and apparel segment. 

We want to develop designers who can add value to the industry in this new venture. Not only designers who can interpret a Western brand but designers who can innovate and rethink and add value to the industry that he or she will be a part of. This alternation of business models takes a change of leadership and culture in the current industry, but it will be the only way forward to compete in the future. And the future is now. And competition from other countries in similar positions will not wait for Sri Lanka to move. They will strike first. So we need to get ahead of the game. We need to drive innovation via new business models and control our own destiny.

The way forward will be to launch a row of brands straight at the global consumer, co-creating on strategy, design and manufacturing – inviting the entire supply chain to work together in order to take Sri Lanka to the next growth curve; creating a seamless supply chain consisting of strategic thinkers, value creating designers, innovative industry and the next growth curve for Sri Lanka.

In order to deliver to this vision; the proposition needs to be rooted in a truth and something that the international consumer will believe and that’s what we plan to unveil at SLDF this year. 

Q: How can anyone interested be part of the event? 

They can contact us for partnerships and participation on 076 777 0306, 011 5867772-3 or email us on [email protected] SLDF will happen on 3, 4, 5 and 6 November at SLECC Colombo with our key partners DIMO with Mercedes Benz Fashion Runways, Coats Thread – official thread and zip partner, GT Nexus – official technology partner, HNB- Official Banking Partner, Mount Lavinia Hotel – Official Host, Wijeya Newspapers Group – Print Media Partner, Free Lanka – Official Beverage Partner, Secquoro – Business Transformation Partner and We Are Designers, Official Hair and Makeup Partner – Salon Kess as well as some of our key apparel industry participants including MAS, Hidramani, Timex, Star Garments, LICC, MRC, Nor Lanka, Orit, Innovative Knits, EKKO, Union Apparel, Penguin, Lanka Leather, Raaksha, Textured Jersey, Avirate and Vogue Tex. The event is endorsed by the Joint Apparel Association Forum.