Blog: Leonie BarrieSri Lanka: a design destination?

Leonie Barrie | 27 November 2009

It’s two years since I last visited Sri Lanka, and I’m flying out again this-evening to take part in the country’s first ever Design Festival which runs over the next week or so.

The event aims to put Sri Lanka on the map as a source of design as well as a manufacturing destination, and with retailers including Topshop, Warehouse, Asos and Monsoon expected to attend too, the lure of new cost effective creative solutions is obviously too much to resist. 

Already established as Sri Lanka's largest export earner, the garment industry shipped goods worth US$3,469m in 2008 – the majority of which went to the US and Europe.

But there are also storm clouds looming on the horizon – despite efforts by local manufacturers to offer retailers a complete supply package, including hefty investments in some of the world’s first ever eco-friendly apparel factories, a socially responsible ‘Garments without Guilt’ manufacturing policy, and new textile parks to balance a shortfall in locally produced fabrics and accessories.

Chief among these are worries the European Commission is about to punish Sri Lanka over alleged human rights abuses in the last stages of the civil war against the Tamil Tigers by recommending the withdrawal of GSP+ benefits that have helped garment firms prosper in trade with the EU.

Coupled with the slowdown in business during the recession, which has already seen retailers cut margins, lower inventories and put even more pressure on their suppliers to keep prices low, losing a concession that keeps prices down couldn’t have come at a worse time. So it’ll be interesting to hear what local firms have to say, and whether a focus on design really will be enough to save the day.


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