The apparel industry is a dynamic contributor to the Sri Lankan economy. The quality of material has helped these garments to rise the ladder in the export markets. It has not always been this way for the sector since it had to start from a small beginning nearly three decades back.
The long journey of Sri Lanka Apparel started back in the 1950s as a brainwave of some pioneering industrialists. The apparel sector’s first focus was serving the local demand that has been built for a long time. A reverse in policies occurred in the country by the end of the 1950s, where the economy moved towards restrictions on imports. This helped the industry to gain more access to the market, and tap its true potential. The apparel sector took the next decade to grow. By the 1960s there were 300 categories of industrial products that were manufactured locally. This was also the time where the sector took sail for export markets. A lot of ready-made garment items including shirts found their place in the major markets such as the UK and the Soviet Union.
The Sri Lankan apparel sector capabilityhas kept growing and improving itself for the last 60 years. Right now, the sector owns 1.2% of the global market share for garment goods. The industry exports garments worth $2.2 billion to the US, $900 million to the UK, $350 million to Italy, and $200 million worth of garments to Belgium. Leading American designer brands such as Calvin Klein, Victoria’s Secret, Speedo, Nike, and Triumph source their garments from Sri Lanka. Apart from the outstanding quality, Sri Lankan apparel promotes values
In a world where most countries violate women’s rights, the Sri Lankan apparel industry managed to build a culture within the sector where the service done by women is appreciated. Women account for 78% of the total industry workforce. Women workers in the Sri Lankan apparel industry receive compensation that helps them to provide for their families and improve their lifestyles. This labour force makes a significant contribution to the Sri Lankan economy.
Back in 2018, the apparel industry’s total inflow of export revenue accounted for more than 5.1 billion USD. The female workforce receives comprehensive training in their job including financial workshops and several other programs that provide them with industry knowledge. After they gain industry experience, most of these individuals pursue their journey by starting their businesses. Therefore, women empowerment in the industry results in more than job creation. It motivates growth.
Sweat shopping is a practice that the apparel sectors of most other countries are being accused of. Most major brands have faced major downfalls during the past couple of decades as such news was publicized. Even though most of these brands were not aware of these practices performed at their sourcing destinations, they still had to suffer the results of their bad choices. The Sri Lankan apparel sector has always been transparent about its ethical performance. No sweatshops are operating within the sector. All employees are being paid decent compensation with perks.
There is no involvement of child employees or unhealthy working conditions. Quality maintenance has always been a major focus of each institution serving the sector. Therefore the right manufacturing techniques with the investment of the right knowledge and ethical practices results in the creation of “Garments without Guilt”.
The Covid 19 pandemic took a toll on the Sri Lankan apparel industry. Both 2020 and 2021 have not been the best years for both industry leaders and employees. Even Though most factories that closed down during 2020 were re-opened in 2021, the travel restrictions and social distancing laws imposed by the government limited attendance and affected the output. However, the pandemic also showed new opportunities for the sector to follow. Production of PPE was one of them. This helped the sector to enter a new market with a new range of products.
This was followed by all ventures including small and medium-sized apparel firms. These firms undertook subcontract orders from larger firms. This method has helped the industry to get back up on its feet. It will get stronger and go back to bigger numbers soon as the pandemic is done with its troubles.