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‘Resilience, creativity and talent will make Sri Lankan apparel thrive globally’

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Interview with Sharad Amalean

Sri Lanka’s apparel sector contributes 6% to the country’s GDP and accounts for almost half of all merchandise exports. The sector provides direct employment to 350,000 workers and an additional 700,000 Sri Lankans receive livelihood opportunities as part of the larger supply chain. Sharad Amalean, Chairman of the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), talks about JAAF’s vision for Sri Lanka’s apparel industry, the sector’s resilience through the global pandemic and Sri Lanka’s potential for becoming a global hub for innovation in apparel manufacturing and design. Excerpts from an interview:

Q: How is the global fashion and apparel industry evolving? Where does Sri Lanka fit in?

A: It’s easy to think of apparel as a commodity product, but take a look at the industry and global marketplace, and it will be evident how wrong that view can be. There is so much design, innovation and creativity that is visible throughout the industry. All this innovation goes into products that are constantly being reimagined and reinvented. There is very little doubt that the industry will reach the level of US$2.2 trillion by 2025, as many experts have predicted.

China and India have emerged as major marketplaces and as competitors, so the competitive landscape has widened. True, the pie has become larger, but the effort needed to increase the size of each slice for each brand has also increased significantly. Brands have initiated several strategic moves, such as acquiring other brands and entering into regional partnerships with like-minded organisations to develop supply chain strength across the globe. Bilateral and regional trade agreements between nations have also contributed to the growth of the industry globally.

As rapid as these changes have been, they also provide countries like Sri Lanka significant opportunities. If we are willing to pursue them and evolve into a solutions provider instead of just manufacturers, we will be able to thrive and grow along with the global industry.

Q: How has the pandemic shaped the apparel industry? How are manufacturers and brands recovering from the setbacks of COVID-19?

A: The pandemic taught us many lessons, both as individuals and as an industry. While we have seen consumers prioritising value and durability over fast fashion, they have also increased their attention on ethical manufacturing, sustainability and inclusivity.

With sharp price points and constant pursuit of cost efficiencies, the apparel industry is faced with competing priorities. The pandemic has brought these aspects even more sharply into focus; brands and companies have increased their vigilance on the social, environmental, governance and ethical aspects of manufacturing. What this means is that only those that take a holistic view of their production and eco-system will thrive while those with scant respect for ethics, the environment and social responsibility will not find favour with customers.

Having built a reputation of being a sustainable and ethical manufacturing destination, Sri Lanka is well placed to thrive in this evolutionary phase. Although in the past our contribution to these external aspects has impacted Sri Lanka’s cost-competitiveness, we now see buyers support and partner with our efforts. These have enabled them to provide complete supply chain transparency to their end consumers.

Even in a post-pandemic landscape, these focus areas will continue to be scrutinised; it is and will be the way forward for the industry.

Q: Sri Lanka’s apparel industry has mapped out a vision for 2030. What does this vision entail, and is Sri Lanka on track to achieve it?

A: During the pandemic, there was a growing sense of doubt creeping in as to whether we could maintain our momentum as we approach 2030. Despite the challenges we faced, the industry showed tremendous resilience. The fact that we managed to achieve revenue levels of 2019 despite the dip in 2020 is a testament to that fact. If this growth continues, we will be on track to achieve our revenue target of $8 billion by 2025.

Our vision for 2030, however, is much more complex and aspirational, going well beyond just revenue growth. Whilst several of our partner organisations are making strides towards this vision, there is still much to be done in order bring the plan to fruition. As an industry we need to capitalise on opportunities such as the Port City, which could be a springboard not just for our Vision 2030 but for Sri Lanka as a whole. The project has been laid out as an opportunity for global partnerships; we need to intensify our efforts to convince global customers and brands to set up in Sri Lanka. This will enhance Sri Lanka’s image and aid the industry in providing complete solutions, reducing the turnaround time between concept and product development significantly.

Several partner organisations are moving swiftly towards creating a solutions hub, by providing customers with service offerings beyond what is currently provided. Take logistics: despite current challenges, organisations are offering customers flexibility and effective and multiple distribution solutions, even serving the end consumer in some cases. Given the positive response from customers, we are confident that we are well on our way towards realising this part of our Vision 2030.

Talent is another area we are paying considerable attention to: the development of a strong talent pool that could be deployed globally and will continue to support the Sri Lankan apparel industry. There already is considerable demand for Sri Lankan talent globally, owing to their expertise. We have suffered a ‘brain drain’ because our international competitors offer better prospects. We intend to give our employees opportunities to work at our global partner organisations. That will support their aspirations, and also help the industry retain its talent for the country as we traverse the road to 2030.

Q: Can Sri Lanka build on its innovations and specialisation within the apparel sector?

A: Whether it’s a product or process, our industry has contributed to and with innovation. There are a significant number of Sri Lankan innovations that have been commercialised globally. Examples include impact protection gear to enhance performance and protect athletes in high impact sports, virtual photoshoots using 3D avatars, virtual design technology that has cut costs and improved delivery time as well as medical and infection control apparel.

It is imperative that we foster a culture of invention and innovation in the industry, but also be creative and prudent in maximising the potential of our ideas. Considering the effort and scale that we put into commercialising products, and the constraints in market access, we need to pick our best options and partners to ensure maximum benefit to Sri Lanka. It is this thinking that we need to foster in order to make the best use of our talent and ideas and take them global.

When it comes to technology, larger players in the industry invest significantly to upgrade frequently. Smaller organisations have financial and scale constraints. This is where we need to show our customers the capabilities they can back and support, to develop our technology and systems.

In all of these areas, it is essential that we engage with global partners positively; that will be vital to help us gain access to new markets and scale up.

Sharad Amalean is the Chairman of the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) and is a co-founder and Board Member of MAS Holdings (Pvt) Ltd. Having previously served as the CEO of MAS Holdings, Sharad has now transitioned to a new phase of his corporate journey overlooking strategic investments and diversification activities of the organization. He is also instrumental in supporting the organization to develop the next generation of leaders as the company journeys towards the future.



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Manudam Mehewara Initiative by Dialog, MAS, Hemas & CBL reach 10,000 families, invites all corporates to Join its countrywide emergency relief mission

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Emergency relief is currently being distributed across all 25 districts

In a mission to provide emergency relief to the most vulnerable communities across the country amidst the ongoing economic crisis, the ‘Manudam Mehewara’ initiative reached its first milestone of aiding over 10,000 families in-need.

 Joining hands with like-minded partners including its execution partner Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement and independent auditor PwC Sri Lanka, Manudam Mehewara was initiated by Dialog Axiata PLC, MAS Holdings, Hemas Holdings PLC, and CBL Group with the end goal of providing emergency support to over 200,000 vulnerable families and communities across the country that do not have access to essential supplies and basic necessities. ITN, Siyatha, Swarnawahini, TV Derana and Vasantham are also supporting the initiative as media partners.

Emergency relief is currently being distributed across all 25 districts, and the Manudam Mehewara programme will conduct its relief efforts until a sustainable benefit transfer system is established through an effective recovery plan. Manudam Mehewara invites all corporates to join our shared mission to support over 200,000 vulnerable families across Sri Lanka.

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Ninewells Hospital raises awareness on thyroid disease in newborns to commemorate World Thyroid Day 2022

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Ninewells Hospital, Sri Lanka’s leading woman and childcare hospital in the private sector, commemorates World Thyroid Day on 25th May by emphasising the significance of early detection and treatment of Congenital Hypothyroidism among newborns in Sri Lanka.

Congenital hypothyroidism (CHT) is a condition affecting infants from birth, and refers to an absent thyroid gland or a thyroid gland that is present but is unable to produce adequate thyroid hormones. On average, 1 in 4,000 babies are born with a severe form of CHT in Sri Lanka, while milder forms can be seen more commonly. If left untreated, the condition can affect brain development as well as normal growth in children and adolescents. Conversely, if detected and treated early, the damaging effects of CHT can be reversed and prevented completely.

“As Sri Lanka’s leading private sector childcare health service provider, we want to draw attention to the serious implications of Congenital Hypothyroidism on World Thyroid Day this year. Congenital Hypothyroidism is a condition which has a detrimental impact on postnatal development. For this reason, early detection and treatment is vital and should ideally begin within the first two weeks after birth,” said Dr. Vibash Wijeratne, Chief Operations Officer and Director, Ninewells Hospital.

In 2021 Ninewells Hospital unveiled a Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH) testing facility to support Sri Lanka’s national program for screening newborns for CHT and the country’s vision for a healthier population. Since then, the hospital has carried out over 8,000 tests in 2021 and over 2,000 tests between January and May of 2022.

With the unveiling, Ninewells Hospital became the first in the private sector to introduce a TSH screening machine and became one of the only two hospitals in the country to offer this screening service.

“The screening for CHT is a simple process that is performed using a heel prick test. At Ninewells, the test report following the screening is issued within a short span of three days which is unprecedented in the country. This allows healthcare providers to begin immediate treatment to avoid development impediments in newborns and infants,” Dr. Wijeratne also said.

Ninewells Hospital is Sri Lanka’s premier women’s and children’s hospital in the private sector, providing a variety of specialty services such as Obstetrics, Gynaecology, Paediatrics, and Fertility. The hospital, which is backed by the Access Group of Companies’ visionary leadership, continues to push boundaries and raise the bar for women’s and children’s healthcare in Sri Lanka.

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SL plunges into worst economic contraction in the wake of dramatic currency collapse – CBSL Governor

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne

Sri Lanka will witness the worst economic contraction in its history, as it reels from a currency collapse of the rupee from 200 to 370 to the US dollar and interest rates contracted above 20 per cent, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe said.

“Sri Lanka is going through severe fuel shortages and power cuts after the credibility of a soft-peg was broken by mis-targeted interest rates in the course of targeting an output gap (printing money to boost growth) under the Keynesian ideology, Weerasinghe said while addressing the Press Club of the Sri Lanka Press Institute. The event was held at the Colombo Hilton on Monday.

Weerasinghe added: “At this juncture we cannot make normal imports for the next three to six months. Industries are saying there is no raw material. Only essential imports can be made on a priority basis in order to maintain day- to- day activities.

‘Sri Lanka’s economy contracted 3.6 per cent in 2020 amid the Coronavirus crisis and it also contracted 1.5 per cent in 2001, after a soft-peg crisis amid a civil war.

‘The latest failure of the unstable peg with the US dollar came after the Central Bank printed over two trillion rupees over two years to mis-target interest rates, leading to a steep collapse of the currency and a correction of the interest rates back to around 20 to 25 per cent.

‘The economic crisis has also spilled over into a political crisis and social unrest.

‘The rupee’s 2022 fall to 380 to the US dollar from 200 to the dollar is the worst currency crisis created by the soft-pegged Central Bank in its 72- year- old history.

‘The money printing Central Bank created its first economic crisis and output shock in 1953, bringing down growth to 0.7 per cent after triggering a now famous “hartal”.

‘An Exchange Control Act was also enacted in 1952 as the printed money from the newly set up Central Bank scrambled to go out, in a phenomenon that was repeated multiple times over the next 70 years and dragged the country into 16 IMF programs.

‘The unstable Central Bank was set up by a US money doctor in 1950 in the style of Argentina’s BCRA, abolishing a Currency Board that had kept the country stable through two World Wars and the Great Depression, where money printing above the external anchor was outlawed.

‘The worst recorded crises in the country include the 1948 uprising against the then colonial administration which took place after the British railway bubble burst, commodity prices fell and the then colonial government upped taxes. However, there is no information on the economic contraction that year.

‘Sri Lanka’s citizens burnt the houses and property of the elected ruling class on May 9, after the unstable peg collapsed in a botched float where interest rates were not allowed to go up before the float and a surrender rule pushed the rupee down.

‘Interest rates were allowed to go up after my appointment as CBSL Governor and the economy is now slowing and the headlong crash of the rupee peg has slowed.’

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