Design and innovation have been proven to open up new avenues, unlock big ideas, and bring in fresh connections between people, products, services, brands, and businesses. It can help businesses achieve superior market edge, leapfrog competition, and leave a lasting impression in the minds of consumers. This is the thinking that has led many nations to embrace design and innovation as cornerstones of their future economies. For Sri Lanka—the South Asian island nation with a US $ 5 billion apparel manufacturing industry—design and innovation present an entirely new paradigm. With the country recently opening up its first discussions to form a national policy that merges design and innovation with industry, apparel is one of Sri Lanka’s key industries set to undergo a serious transformation. These are the top five reasons we see behind this major shift.
1. From ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ to ‘Designed and Made in Sri Lanka’
A major differentiator that the world’s biggest manufacturing economy—China—is aiming for is ‘design’. Similarly, manufacturing nations across the world are beginning to understand that creativity, intellectual property, and design have surpassed higher volume capacity, in their ability to score better profit margins. Sri Lanka’s export strategy echoes this thinking as the country begins to embrace design in a major way. Chitranjali Dissanaike, Director of industrial products at the Export Development Board Sri Lanka was at the first discussions to form a national strategy for a creative economy. She noted that the importance of the creative industries is massive, as it will generate superior products and content to be exported as high-value goods and services from Sri Lanka, especially in apparel. She was quoted as saying, “Developing the creative industries will enrich many industries that need the creative value addition in order to stay relevant to changing export markets. For example, the existence of an active, strategically organised creative sector will allow our apparel export industry to transition into a value-added fashion industry with products that were designed and made in Sri Lanka.”
2. Beyond B2B to B2C
With Lankan apparel manufacturing industry transforming into an intellectual property-based solution provider, it will also break through its traditional business-to-business system by reaching the consumer directly. This shift is already apparent with many major apparel makers employing their design teams and innovation wings to spearhead retail brands that directly reach the consumer. For this, the Lankan apparel industry will not only have its mature manufacturing capabilities to lean on, but also decades of consumer research used in product development and the market experience that comes with the close observance of global fashion retailers that they’ve worked with.
3. Patronage of a thriving fashion ecosystem
With its massive global success and inherent interest in breeding homegrown talent, Sri Lanka’s apparel industry has been seen as the natural patron of the local fashion community for years. As Sri Lanka’s creative industries’ policy opens up new opportunities for young designers, wearables brands and retailers, the island will undoubtedly have a flourishing fashion ecosystem. This means that within the next decade, the Lankan apparel industry will be surrounded by interesting brands and individual fashion innovators to invest in, while a thriving fashion culture will fuel a new domestic market for their B2C channels.
4. Material innovation, fusing technology, and everything else that makes the future of wearables
The Lankan apparel industry is already a growing hotspot for changing wearables as we know it. With several major apparel companies investing in innovation units that dissect what makes the future fashion product to completely reinvent materials, finishing and where wearables infuse with technology, the industry is already diversifying itself, heading in new directions from its traditional manufacturing heritage. With the new national focus on design and innovation, there will be state and private sector funded opportunities to delve deeper into this process, fueling a complete transformation of the industry, allowing it to evolve horizontally, into new realms.
5. Developing the talent within
In many ways, a focussed national strategy to integrate design and innovation with business will transform the Lankan apparel industry. But, what will influence the industry the most will be how such a national policy will nurture the talent that is available to Lankan apparel. As the national policy for developing the creative industries will also give a special focus towards developing the creative thinking, innovative capacity, and design talent within the nation, the Lankan apparel industry will have the ability to tap into an advanced talent pool within the next decade. This is one major factor that will fuel the transformation within the industry in unprecedented ways.