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Saturday September 18th, 2021

Sri Lanka design school and Bangladesh plan eco-friendly jute apparel

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka and Bangladesh apparel makers are in high-level discussions to deepen collaboration around innovation with plans for jute based eco-friendly apparel in partnership with a design school in the island taking a creative role, a diplomat said.

"Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are thought to be competing in apparels, but industry leaders from both countries are in conversation about how the clothing market is evolving beyond polymer," Bangladesh High Commissioner to Colombo Riaz Hamidullah said.

Colombo-based Academy of Design (AOD) will provide the creative input.

Hamidullah said the discussions were initiated by MAS’ Mahesh Amalean and Brandix Ashroff Omar, the two largest apparel exporting companies in Sri Lanka with operations in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and the US.

"They are now coming to a point of convergence," he said.

Hamidullah was addressing an investment forum ‘Ayubowan Bangladesh’  in Colombo organised by Sri Lanka’s NDB Capital Holdings and NDB Investment Bank which have offices in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s apparel industry enjoys cheap labour and scale, while Sri Lanka makes products higher-up the value chain specializing in synthetic fabrics, functional clothing, smart clothing and wearable tech.

"We have to look at the eco-friendly trends shaping the global clothing industry. This is where jute comes in," Hamidullah said.

The soil and water conditions in Bangladesh are optimal for the cultivation of jute while Sri Lanka possesses the expertise around design and innovation.

"You’ve heard of the Academy of Design," he told the audience but stopped short not wanting to divulge private industrial discussions.

"Well, let me just say that Airbus and BMW use jute for something upmarket. So there’s an opportunity to cooperate. The discussions are ongoing but let me just leave you with that thread," Hamidullah said.

"The points I’m trying to make is that Sri Lanka and Bangladesh need not compete but collaborate to gain access to new markets and global supply chains".

Since taking over the Colombo assignment two years ago, Hamidullah said he has businesses shifting gear from being competitors to collaborators.

He cited two examples of such cross border collaboration between the two Bay of Bengal neighbours.

A Bangladeshi company importing Sri Lankan chilies for value added exports found the pungency was too weak so it developed a hybrid strand.

"This was introduced not just to Bangladesh but to Sri Lanka as well. You also have Sri Lanka’s Hayleys growing peppers and gherkins in 20 acres in Bangladesh, processed in Sri Lanka for Pizza Hut and the Japanese retail market," he said.

Like for apparels, there are similar discussions between the tech industries of the two countries, Bangladesh’s envoy said.

"Sri Lanka has the vertical capabilities in IT and Bangladesh has horizontal capabilities which can be combined for better gains".

Maritime and logistics is another area being discussed.

"We’re looking at diverting our transshipments from Singapore to Sri Lanka and this will have a tremendous impact on both countries," Hamidullah said.

"Having given you all these examples, it becomes obvious the free trade agreement now under discussion will completely transform and deepen the relationship". (COLOMBO, 17 August 2018)

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