Blog: Leonie BarrieSri Lanka: Designing for the future

Leonie Barrie | 3 December 2009

The Sri Lankan apparel industry is nurturing its local design talent in a bid to help manufacturers add another layer of skills and competitiveness to their operations.

Indeed, such a move has long been the next logical step for the country's $3.5bn export business, but it is only within the last few years that several degree programmes have been set up here to cater to this demand.

Both the University of Moratuwa and the Academy of Design have sensibly affiliated their degree courses with UK establishments – Northumbria University and the London College of Fashion respectively.

Not only does this ensure courses are compatible with those taught elsewhere, but it means students who are remote from the world's fashion capitals get an international perspective on fashion trends, as well as an understanding of customers and markets. And placements within local companies give them hands-on experience of how the industry works too.

Sri Lanka’s first Design Festival this week highlighted the Indian Ocean island's creative talent in a series of stunning catwalk shows, and visits to local firms including Melbourne Textile and Hirdaramani Group showed design in action.

At Melbourne Textiles, Sri Lanka's largest washing, dyeing and special effects facility, 800 workers produce around 200,000 garments a day for customers including Next, Gap, M&S, Nike and Victoria's Secret.

The company claims that being more proactive in design, including research into new wash effects, gives it a competitive edge – even though it admitted buyers sometimes copy ideas and farm them out to rival suppliers.

The $300m Hirdaramani Group – the largest direct supplier to M&S – also emphasises the importance of added value services such as washing, printing and embroidery to its casual and activewear and children's clothing.

It has recently invested in a new G2 machine, which uses ozone to strip colour from a garment without using water or chemicals, making for a faster and more environmentally friendly process.

The company has also set up a dedicated design centre, and offers placements to design students from the London College of Fashion to bring to the table extra knowledge about UK high street trends. And it has even launched its own denim brand in India called LICC Jeanswear.

While firms acknowledge they're never going to replace a brand or retailer's own design teams, they're fully aware that having designers in the production process speeds things up – and that this, in turn, gives them an enormous head start over their rivals.


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