SRI LANKA: Island keen to become the fashion hub of S-E Asia

With major international brands, such as Marks & Spencer, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Pierre Cardin, Gucci, Nike, Marmot and Calvin Klein, sourcing their products from Sri Lanka, the island-nation is fast turning out to be the fashion hub and shoppers' paradise of South-East Asia.

On a visit to Sri Lanka, T. Damu, Vice-President of the Taj Group of Hotels, said: "Sri Lanka is unique for international brands in garments. Shopping destinations such as Dubai, Singapore or Malaysia cannot compete with Sri Lanka in price or quality. For electronic goods these destinations might be far ahead, but for garments and apparel, Colombo has carved out a name for itself."

Manjula Palipane, Public Relations Manager of the Taj Samudra, said: "The export surpluses of these international brands are sold here at a fraction of the prices prevailing in key US and European markets. And Indians and Europeans have begun to descend in hordes to indulge in a shopping frenzy."

One can pick up a Tommy Hilfiger casual trousers for a rock-bottom price of Rs 300 or an Arrow shirt at a throwaway price of Rs 250 (in Indian currency). The `Best of Sri Lanka' package of the Taj Group of Hotels has helped showcase this shopping experience to thousands of Indians.

And these are truly international products in quality, sources in the trade said. The cotton is quite often sourced from Thailand or Egypt, the elastic from Malaysia, the synthetics from Singapore — and the final product is made in garment factories in Sri Lanka.
The country has over 600 textile and garment units employing over 3 lakh people directly. It is the single largest employer in Sri Lanka's industrial sector. Over 60 per cent of these products are exported to the US and 34 per cent to the European Union. This is the country's biggest export earner, contributing over 54 per cent to the total revenue.

And the international port at Colombo, with its well-developed feeder roads to the hinterland, has helped in no small measure in making the garment revolution a reality in Sri Lanka. Unlike Indian ports, export from Colombo is a single, uniform and calibrated movement, with hardly any room for error or interruptions.

In contrast, exports from places such as Tirupur in India starts with a slow tedious movement by road to the nearest port, be it Mumbai, Tuticorin or Chennai.

Often there is the laborious process of transhipment at Colombo port before the goods are finally loaded on to ships bound for the final destination. The equally tedious reverse process would be true for sourcing the best quality cotton, elastic or synthetics from the international market. "This is why the major players still hesitate before setting shop or sourcing products from India," the sources said.

Today, the garment industry is to Sri Lanka what the IT industry is to India. Computer-aided video design, data interchanging and video conferencing facilities form an integral part of the technology-driven garment industry of Sri Lanka. It has revolutionised large parts of the hinterland of the island-nation and India, with its bulging foreign exchange reserves and a fast emerging middleclass, has begun to reap a rich harvest in tourism and shopping at extremely discounted prices — right in the neighbourhood.

June 07, 2004

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Added: June 7, 2004 Source: Agencies
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