Brandix, Sri Lankas biggest apparel exporter, has embarked on a search for "disruptive genius"

Brandix, Sri Lanka's biggest apparel exporter, has embarked on a search for "disruptive genius"

Already well-known for its apparel industry innovation - establishing the world's first 'green' factories, emphasising its ethical 'Garments without Guilt' production, and pioneering in-factory approval on colour and fit - Sri Lanka is now setting its sights on driving new game-changing solutions for the apparel and textile sectors.

Leading Sri Lankan exporter Brandix Group has just launched a US$1m 'Disrupt Unlimited' venture intended to fast-track Sri Lanka's evolution into an industry knowledge and innovation hub over the next three years.

The so-called "seed accelerator" will provide access to seed funding, advisors, practical workshops, networking opportunities, collaborative workspace and legal and administrative services, along with the opportunity to pitch game-changing ideas to venture capitalists and angel investors at an exclusive Demo Day.

And the aim is to encourage innovators from all industries to develop technology-driven solutions that address challenges at every stage of the supply chain - leading to "revolutionary changes" in the way apparel, textiles and accessories are made, packaged, distributed and consumed.

Brandix director Udena Wickremesooriya says the group - which employs around 47,000 people at 42 manufacturing plants in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh - had long believed in using innovation to disrupt the existing industry structure.

"There is a unique opportunity for Sri Lankans to get together and make the country a hub for innovation in this industry," he explains, pointing out that the apparel industry is a substantial part of Sri Lanka's economy, Sri Lanka has almost every component of the industry and the human capital, but products and processes have remained the same for a long period of time.

The first eight challenges posed to participating innovators range from increasing machine operator productivity to the development of wash-free clothing and elimination of coloured thread in apparel manufacture.

The eight challenges have also been posted on the blog on the Disrupt Unlimited website, opening them to innovators around the world. If accepted as potential game-changers, the winning solutions could be supported with seed capital for commercialisation.

Disrupt Unlimited plans to conduct four 'Disrupt-a-thon' challenges each year and to draw on existing founder pipelines including universities, the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Global Startup Labs programme, and Sri Lankans living overseas.

It will also help build this pipeline by running 'founder dating' events and collaborating with academic institutions to implement entrepreneurship programmes. Selected entrepreneurs must have an idea for a disruptive, scalable innovation, as well as a team with the right skill-set to develop and commercialise it.

Brandix is already credited with many firsts - including the first apparel manufacturer in the world to build a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum-rated Green factory certified by the US Green Building Council (USGBC); the first in Sri Lanka to build a LEED Gold certified office complex; and the builder of the first Supply Chain City in South Asia - the 1,000-acre Brandix India Apparel City (BIAC).

Dynamism showcase
On a wider level, the country's Joint Apparel Association Forum (Sri Lanka Apparel) is also teaming up with the AllWorld Network, co-founded by Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, to showcase its most innovative and dynamic companies.

The AllWorld's Sri Lanka Fast Growth 25 (SriLanka25) also hopes to boost trade with the US, and will recognise and rank the fastest-growing and most exciting private companies contributing to the country's economic growth.

The ranking will be published nationally and globally, giving visibility to emerging company stars.

With a spot on the list, the idea is that companies will gain global recognition, access to capital and new markets, provide real time feedback to policy makers and point the way forward for entrepreneurs to create the next economy for their country.

The overall goal is that entrepreneurship helps build growth, generating economic breakthroughs and social progress.

The apparel and textile industry is Sri Lanka's biggest export sector, with shipments reaching a record US$4.3bn in 2013.

Pverseas sales are expected to continue rising this year - and the industry is targeting an ambitious target of US$6bn in exports by 2020, making Sri Lanka one of the world's top ten apparel exporting countries.