The Sri Lankan apparel industry is one of the leading contributors to the Sri Lankan economy and one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the country, proudly manufacturing apparel and textile under the “Made in Sri Lanka” branding.
As a supplier of world-class garments, the country’s apparel sector has a history running back nearly three decades. Ethical practices and strong commitment towards the welfare of its workers have guided the industry on the path of its success
Throughout the years, the Sri Lankan apparel sector has evolved from traditional exports and tailoring designs to providing sophisticated solutions, creativity, and experience in BPO services, fashion, and R&D. Manufacturers and exporters in the industry belong to the large scale category as well the medium and small scale as most of the export-oriented clothing factories are SMEs and a majority is located in the Western Province of the country.
Sportswear, lingerie, loungewear, bridalwear, workwear, swimwear, and child wear are some of the main categories the industry has built itself on. These garments are exported around the world and are sold under labels of highly reputed global brands such as Nike, Levi’s, Speedo, Boss, Victoria’s Secret, GAP, Next, Liz Claiborne, Tesco, Diesel Intimmissimi, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Jones New York, Uniqlo, Zalando, Pink, Triumph, Mark and Spencer, Ann Taylor, Colombia, Decathlon, Abercrombie & Fitch, Land’s End, H&M, Ralph Lauren, and Sanmar among others.
There is a high demand for Sri Lankan made apparel in the EU and the UK. Countries like England, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Australia, and the Netherlands are the prominent buyers of Sri Lankan apparel. Other worldwide buyers include The United States of America, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. Sri Lanka earned over USD 5 Billion from apparel exports in the year 2019 and serves 0.69% of the global market for textiles.
Sri Lankan Apparel follows a sustainable manufacturing process during the factory to shop journey. Sri Lankan apparel manufacturers are dedicated to ethical business and manufacturing practices that allow Sri Lankan garments to be positioned as, “Garments without guilt”.
Sri Lanka has stringent laws against child labour. Any individual under the age of 14 years or in the compulsory schooling age according to the law of the country cannot be employed while any individual below the age of 18 years should not be subjected to night duty. Therefore, Sri Lankan garment factories do not hire anyone under 18 for work.
However, the Sri Lankan apparel industry provides direct employment opportunities for almost 300,000 individuals and it indirectly employs almost 600,000 individuals. The sector is free of discrimination. The industry is a main source of income to Sri Lankan women, allowing them to further invest their income in enhancing the education, nutrition, and health of their families.
Due to its solid reputation, the local apparel sector has been able to attract sound investors who are official suppliers to worldwide brands. Around 350 garment factories operate in different parts of the country supporting the further growth of the Sri Lankan apparel industry.
Sri Lanka as an island nation is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climatic changes. (1) Hence, climate action is critical to the survival of all the critical industries and the nation.
The rising concern about the impacts of climate change has influenced Sri Lanka’s major apparel brands to transform high walled garment factories with tall smoking chimneys to buildings with eco-friendly architecture and modern designs including open spaces that invite fresh air and reduce carbon and water footprint.
According to the World Bank, the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Dyeing and the finishing stages of apparel are the major contributors to carbon emissions in the industry. (2) Greenhouse gases have a major impact on the climatic change as they absorb solar energy and keep the heat trapped and close to the Earth's surface. This trapping of heat is also known as the greenhouse effect.
Rising to face the global challenge, Sri Lanka is the proud owner of the world’s first custom-built Green apparel factory and Asia’s first carbon-neutral certified factory. It also owns several of the world’s first manufacturing factories to receive “Net-zero carbon” status. The country has been in a tie with the production methods of developed countries throughout the years. The production methods of apparel production facilities comply with international environmental standards and requirements.
Environmentally ethical practices carried out by manufacturers have been able to cut energy consumption in half and water consumption by 70% by following the concept of lean manufacturing. International standards of recycling, effluent treatment, and waste management practices are followed by LEED Platinum and Gold-certified entities present in the country.
Sri Lanka is already leading the environmental sustainability action within its apparel industry while inspiring the rest of the world to take action on the environmental crisis caused by industrialisation.
Moreover, the service delivered by the workforce is also improving due to innovative skills and reliability. As the manufacturers of “Garments without guilt”, the leading entities in the sector look forward to improving the quality of their factors involving production. Sri Lanka is already a fast fashion and logistics hub for the entire South Asian region. The future is bright for the Sri Lankan apparel industry since it already possesses a lot of strengths which will tend to grow more with time.