Sri Lanka is one of the few smaller Asian countries to successfully transition from an agrarian economy to an industrial and service based economy over the past few decades. The traditional foreign exchange earners – tea, rubber, and coconut – have all been surpassed by the apparel industry starting in the 1980s. The industry has seen massive growth since its humble beginnings, and it is now estimated that it contributes upwards of 40% of foreign income. From the beginning, Sri Lankan apparel manufacturers knew that it could not compete on volume with Asian giants such as China and India, two countries which produce vast numbers of clothing for the global market. Sri Lanka had to find its niche, and found it at the top of the pyramid – top quality high fashion brands. World renowned fashion brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel, Abercrombie & Fitch, and GAP – to name a few – have trusted Sri Lankan manufacturers with producing all or a part of their collections. Sri Lanka’s reputation as a niche manufacturing location grows exponentially, and there seems to be no end in sight. As a country, Sri Lanka has been through some tough times in the recent past. A separatist war burdened the country’s economy for nearly three decades and the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 wiped out an estimated 25,000 of its citizens. Despite all this, the apparel industry kept growing even through the toughest times. It is the resolve of Sri Lankan people, and the faith that international fashion brands had in this tiny island nation that helped the process along. After the end of the war in 2009, the country could begin to implement massive infrastructural development, helping the industry grow further. Sri Lanka had another secret weapon in its arsenal to entice international fashion brands to use it as a manufacturing base: ethics. As a culture which embraces and encourages ethical behaviour – for example, slavery had never existed in the 2,500-year history of the country – and this in turn has been translated into ethical manufacturing processes and governance. There exist neither sweatshop conditions for workers, nor pollution of the environment as a result of misappropriation of waste. Sri Lankan Apparel Manufacturers have implemented growth plans for each of its employees, and take part in some of the country’s larger corporate social responsibility initiatives. More than anything else, Sri Lankan-made garments have a global reputation for being of top quality. Walk into any high-street clothing retailer in the West and you will invariably see that the highest quality products have the words “Made in Sri Lanka” written on its label, indicating that this is a garment made of the highest quality, with consideration for those who made it, and the environment.

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