COLOMBO: British fashion queen Jane Shepherdson is planning a new venture. The former Topshop brand director was on a visit to Sri Lanka, where she announced that she is planning to start a new business soon.
Sri Lanka is fast becoming a centre for high-end apparel manufacture. It is now a key manufacturing base for labels like Victoria's Secret, Triumph, Gap and Speedo.
Shepherdson is widely credited with turning Topshop into a high street brand earning 100 million pounds annual profit from a minor label that earned just a tenth of that when she took over.
She left Topshop in October 2006 and has been consulting for Oxfam and the Japanese brand People Tree since then. I want to take advantage of the sophisticated manufacturing in Sri Lanka, she said.
While promoting high fashion at affordable prices, Shepherdson is trying to push 'ethical brands' where sweatshop labour practices in factories is discouraged.
She is enthusiastic about Sri Lanka's attempts to show the world that it has eco-friendly manufacturing practices with high labour standards, where child labour is shunned and workers are under strict labour laws.
The industry has been promoting Sri Lanka under a 'Garments without guilt' banner to make buyers aware that it is a centre for 'ethical' manufacture.
Shepherdson visited plants which recycle waste water, aim for a carbon neutral footprint and even use pumice stone residues of washing plants productively.
She also attended a fashion show by the graduates of a London College of Fashion design degree program run with the island's Moratuwa University. The two winners got scholarships to follow a Master's degree at the London School of Fashion.
Sri Lanka's apparel makers have been taking on part of the design work, working closely with design teams of fashion labels, to interpret and adapt designs to materials. The course in Sri Lanka includes a one-year internship at an apparel firm where undergraduates get hands-on experience of the garment manufacturing process.
Shepherdson has also been associated with the Fashion Enterprise Fund, a venture capital fund for new designers, which funds promising new designers on a profit share basis.