Leading the Revolution: Sri Lanka and the Business of Sustainable Apparel
Brandix Eco Centre
Resilience, Reliability & Assurance – Sri Lanka Apparel’s core differentiators in the global market provide the perfect balance in creating a premier apparel outsourcing hub.
It is easy to be taken with Sri Lanka’s idyllic beauty: this island paradise is filled with pristine white-sand beaches, lush tropical forests and a breathtaking hill country. The true splendor, however, goes beyond the stunning surface — Sri Lanka is a premier fashion and apparel outsourcing hub that honours a culture of ethical business and sustainability.
The beauty of the island is matched by its work ethic: with a legacy of ethical business practices and environmental responsibility. Sri Lanka’s apparel industry stands out as a proven business model that offers clients world-class ethical solutions supported by fast turnarounds and uncompromising product delivery. All of this has helped develop longstanding partnerships with some of the biggest names in world fashion.
A Strategic Epicenter for Business
A US$4 billion industry today, it wasn’t easy to grow and prosper as Sri Lanka did during 30 years of war within the country. Now this peaceful paradise offers opportunities that are increasing as more space, people and resources are all made available as a result of the peace dividend.
Sri Lanka’s post-conflict economy is growing at 7-8% and, as an emerging economy in Asia, the country has the benefit of building around business. A massive investment in the nation’s infrastructure integrates all parts of the country and expands global connectivity. The country’s small size also works to its advantage, and this rapidly growing connectivity means reduced downtime, transportation time, and cost.
A Regional Hub for Apparel
An innovative industry centre, Sri Lanka is located where east meets west, a global economic hub for logistics, trade, investment, communications, and financial services in South Asia. It is uniquely empowered to meet the needs of the fashion and apparel industry through its location, philosophy, and innovative drive.
In an industry where hub-services are of increasing importance, Sri Lanka is a proven leader—it has elevated operations of the garment industry to that of a skills-based, knowledge-intensive undertaking. The United States alone sources nearly 17% of apparel from the sub-continent. In addition, Sri Lanka already partners customers on R&D, product development and design innovation requirements, and multi-country consolidation. These elements make Sri Lanka an ideal locale for setting up regional headquarters for brands, back-office operations - such as customer service call centres - financial operations, warehousing and distribution, and especially product design and development.
The island’s geographic location and focus on port development means minimum deviation for shipping lines, an efficient feeder network, fast turnarounds and round-the-clock service. Clients can take advantage of fully-equipped berths for vessels and containers, multi-country consolidation and entrepot cargo, EDI facilities with two modern container terminals, and state-of-the-art technology and control systems.
Strengthened backward linkage has resulted in the development of a significant local raw material base for woven and knit fabrics, as well as lace and a wide range of other inputs—thread, elastic, buttons, hangers and the like. Additionally, a partnering of garment factories and textile mills in the region forms “virtually vertically integrated factories,” offering an expanded garment supply chain.
Focus on Ethical & Environmental Accountability
Ease of business, combined with speed, efficiency, and low cost is not all Sri Lanka has to offer. Born of a philosophy of fairness, Sri Lanka’s socially responsible employment practices are a part of the country’s nature and have always been integral to business. In fact, buyers working with factories in Sri Lanka are pleased to discover a compliant environment with an inherent sense of ethics. It is an enviable position to be in, especially given that the latest US Department of Labor report reveals at least six of the top ten nations that export apparel to the United States have engaged in labour abuses — including child and forced labour.
The country’s commitment to a higher standard of business ethics — upheld over 350 plants and a half-a-million-strong workforce — means that the apparel industry is free of sweatshop practices, child and forced labour, and discrimination.
Known for creating “garments without guilt”, the “Made in Sri Lanka” label has become synonymous with ethical apparel and responsible business.
When it comes to ecological awareness and responsibility, Sri Lanka has always been among the most progressive nations in the world. The country boasts numerous programs that include wildlife and marine preservation, and the green mind-set carries into apparel manufacturing. Determined to leave the lightest carbon footprint possible, the country is constantly innovating to reduce carbon dioxide, sulphur, and nitrogen oxides emissions — and to save energy, reduce water waste and, of course, recycle.
It is no surprise that Sri Lanka’s apparel firms have collected national and international awards for social and environmental achievement, with the world’s first LEED platinum certified apparel manufacturing plant situated in the country.
Already, Sri Lanka has seven LEED facilities with Platinum or Gold status.
It is important to note that these standards are all supplier-driven and motivated by a true desire to run not only a more efficient and powerful business but also an honorable one. This is a true point of differentiation in the world of apparel supply. By developing an industry-wide commitment to social and environmental responsibility, Sri Lanka now owns it.
These supplier-driven initiatives are an excellent start. However, not all manufacturing countries will take these important steps without motivation. In order for the global push for sustainability to be successful, compliance on the buyer side is essential. Ethical buying is a key element to unifying standards around the world.
In order to be truly successful, sustainability has to combine ethics with profits for both parties — requiring strategic partnerships, transparency and long-term commitment. With a legacy of ethics and its focus on innovation, Sri Lanka has proven that it can succeed without guilt, generate profits for both parties, and be an ideal partner in the apparel business.
Sri Lanka is ahead of its time, with a history of ethical and sustainable business practices that the rest of the world is now beginning to embrace. Big business is thriving on this tiny island paradise — and experts are taking note of business done extremely well, and extremely honourably.
As the nation continues to build and innovate in the apparel business, it is poised to become a powerful player and the true hub of the industry.