The Sri Lankan apparel industry is shoring up the design skills of its garment suppliers as part of its bid to become one of the most innovative countries in the textile and apparel field over the next five years.


With the third student out-take from the degree course in Fashion Design and Product Development due to stage its graduation fashion show in Colombo this week, industry executives said that if the sector is to compete globally then it must offer a whole lot more than manufacturing.


Mahesh Amalean, chairman of MAS Holdings, Sri Lanka's largest intimate apparel maker, told just-style yesterday: "Customers now expect the industry to provide new products and innovative technologies - but we couldn't do this without increasing our knowledge base."


The four-year degree course, which is offered by the University of Moratuwa and is the only one of its kind in the country, has been set up with consultancy from the London College of Fashion (LCF).


Roy Peach, dean of postgraduate studies at LCF, said the course's integrated approach, including placements within local companies, is key, since graduates "will be working with players from around the world and now know how the whole process works.


"They will be able to hold conversations with key people, and know what they're talking about - and that's what industry needs."


One of the judges at the show is Jane Shepherdson, the former brand director for UK fashion retailer Topshop, who is now involved with ethical fashion firm People Tree and charity Oxfam.


She confirms that manufacturing is only a very small part of the package for suppliers, adding: "Brands all have their own design teams creating their own vision in their own handwriting.


"But having designers in the production process speeds things up and gives companies an enormous head start."


By Leonie Barrie.