“For Sri Lanka to be ranked 11th in Just Style’s top 10 list of apparel sourcing countries to watch in 2022 is truly remarkable. This is particularly so because a few of our direct competitors have been listed below us” enthused Pubudu De Silva, the Group Chief Executive Officer of Teejay Lanka.

For example, Bangladesh and India are at 12th and 16th positions respectively, he noted.

Taking a closer look at the rankings, he observed that “Vietnam took the lead as the number one destination with a score of 59 points out of 75 – and it has grown year on year regardless of COVID-19. China, which is the industry’s leading manufacturer, was only ranked fourth, which is quite shocking.”

There are many dynamics and criteria that come into play vis-à-vis the ranking system, he revealed: “We have noticed that price has been the main factor while compliance and sustainability – where Sri Lanka outshines many other countries – innovation, flexibility, value added products and a nation’s financial stability are also crucial factors that affect a country’s positioning.”

Sizing up Sri Lanka’s apparel industry, he noted that “back in 2019, our revenue reached US$ 5.3 billion and reduced to 4.1 billion dollars in 2020, primarily as a result of the pandemic. However, with the strategies implemented to remedy the situation, we were able to achieve revenues of US$ 5.1 billion last year.”

“In order to maintain or grow our ranking and performance, we need to improve business confidence. Brands now look for countries that are able to sustain their own supply chains. This works well for Sri Lanka, as we have frameworks like the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) helping many manufacturers and companies in sustaining business in Sri Lanka,” he rationalised.

Reflecting on the challenges faced by textile and apparel manufacturers in the island, De Silva stated: “We have survived decades of war, the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, lack of quotas, an unstable GSP Plus era and of course, the pandemic. Now our resilience is not in doubt in the minds of customers.”

And he added: “However, to reach the likes of Vietnam – which we can surely achieve – we as an industry need to have proper infrastructure in place.”

“Furthermore, Sri Lanka needs to be more consumer centric by building stronger relationships with customers. The pandemic led to many logistical concerns and raw materials were in short supply. There are many areas we need to improve and I believe that from a textile exporters’ perspective, if we flag down and fix our internal issues, we’ll be able to reach greater heights,” De Silva declared.

As for aspirations, he commented that “increasingly, countries prefer a one stop solution for everything. Therefore, improving vertical integration will be a huge step towards aiming higher to achieve a trade value nearer to those of Vietnam and Bangladesh.”

Assessing the impact of innovation and rapid technological advancement in the textile sector, he surmised: “Modernisation and improvement are absolute necessities; our processes and product portfolios need to change constantly to ensure that we stay ahead of the competition based on market trends. Keeping digital infrastructure updated will reduce our lead times, enabling cost reductions as well.”

He also spoke at length on ethical fashion: “This has become a hot topic with an increasing focus on conserving the ecology. Compliance with environmental protection is a policy we need to take on as a social responsibility; we owe it to future generations and the world. With the apparel industry being one of the biggest pollutants on the planet, we must strive to reduce our carbon footprint.”

De Silva summed up as follows: “The bottom line is that we should be more conscious and work harder to keep up with the three ‘Ps’ (people, planet and profits) and three ‘Rs’ (reduce, reuse and recycle) as sustainable initiatives.”