Under the Sri Lanka Apparel Forum, an initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat in collaboration with the Commonwealth Business Council, London College of Fashion and the Sri Lankan High Commission in London, the eight makers of various types of clothes have met with key fashion outlets in London and discussed what they need to do to get their products on the shelves of retailers in the UK.
On 9 May 2012, the team met with potential buyers, joint venture partners and investors for a one-day workshop at Marlborough House, the headquarters of the Secretariat in London.
Speaking at the opening of the workshop, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith said that the Commonwealth was pleased to be supporting small manufacturers, who unlike their larger counterparts have a major challenge in successfully accessing major export markets.
The garment sector is a major contributor to Sri Lanka's export earnings, accounting for over 40 per cent or US$3.1 billion of the country's total export earnings. The industry also directly and indirectly employs close to 700,000 people, making it one of the largest employers in the country.
Mr Smith also praised the Sri Lankan garment makers for pioneering ethical and sustainable practices in the production process, under the Garments Without Guilt Initiative (GWI). The GWI involves sourcing garment materials in an eco-friendly manner, using clean energy sources.
Sujeevan Perera, a trade adviser at the Secretariat who is managing the project, said the London event is a culmination of nine months of preparing and coaching the eight manufacturers to tailor their products to the needs of UK retailers.
Speaking at the same event, Sue Dean from the London School of Fashion said that for small garment manufacturers to breakthrough into sophisticated markets, they need to work on their branding and ensure that their products "stand out from the crowd".
"Today's customers are more demanding - for quality and value for money; and are also very discerning and well informed. With a click of a mouse on the computer, they are able to get a range of options quickly. The climate is tough for the industry and as such suppliers have to work on their brand, research the market and raise their profile. This is what we have been trying to impart to the group," she said.