The South Asian Apparel Leadership Forum, which has been an influential voice in the local apparel industry’s evolution, recently announced its first independent edition held under the theme ‘Design & Make’.
Entrepreneur Linda Speldewinde, founder of AOD, the powerhouse behind the forum and the Sri Lankan design movement, and apparel industry leader Hirdaramani Group Director Aroon Hirdaramani, shared their views on the relevance of the forum to the Lankan apparel business in its positive and pro-innovation current context, following the recent reissue of GSP+.
Q: What was the founding vision of this forum?
LS: The South Asian Apparel Leadership Forum was conceptualised seven years ago at a time when the apparel industry was reworking its strategy to be a more value-adding industry and it was a time when the industry was affected by the loss of GSP+ and several other factors. We were always inspired and motivated to work with this industry and it was part of our bigger vision to support, with design and innovation, the positioning of Sri Lanka as South Asia’s design innovation hub, and our apparel industry as the world’s premier design to delivery service industry.
Q: What role does it play for the apparel industry?
AH: From an industry perspective, I believe the forum has been instrumental in drawing attention to how the Sri Lankan apparel industry has evolved from a manufacturing-only position to a strong focus on design and innovation fronted fashion. It has also been a great platform in delivering new viewpoints to the apparel industry in terms of the sharing of ideas to encourage a change in the way we view materials, supply chains and design.
Q: So what does the forum hope to deliver in 2017?
LS: This year’s theme ‘Design & Make’ encapsulates winning global markets by presenting a full range of services from design to manufacturing, while going over and beyond the competitors in China, Bangladesh and Vietnam by bringing in fashion innovation.
The forum’s 2017 agenda will factor in how the fashion industry landscape is changing with speed-to-market and product differentiation becoming inescapable with technology and the explosion of the online world. Artificial intelligence, big data and super mobility are no longer buzzwords but realities and powerful tools that can influence Sri Lankan apparel manufacturers.
Q: What does this mean to the apparel industry?
AH: The Sri Lankan apparel industry has been looking for opportunities to grow and add value in terms of what we offer. Fashion consumers are changing and so are the brands that we manufacture for them. The South Asian Apparel Leadership Forum will address many of the key initiatives that we need to embrace to better service our customers. It’s really on point with what the industry needs to hear now.
Q: How do you see this fitting into the bigger national vision that you mentioned before?
LS: The South Asian Apparel Leadership Forum is a necessary platform in taking the country’s largest export revenue maker to the next level. Intelligent and relevant discussions of this nature are so important to our industry which also impacts Sri Lanka at such a vast extent in being the highest forex generator and the largest employer.
As the industry progresses into moving up the value chain and participating in front-end activities through design and innovation, continuous knowledge enhancement becomes incredibly necessary - this is where the forum coincides with our national vision.
Q: What excites you about the forum this year?
AH: What excites me the most is how this forum will connect apparel manufacturing to innovation and how technology can change the way we manufacture, while also addressing real issues such as labour shortages and the competitive landscape in which we operate. It is a space for dissecting the future of the industry in a manner that is inclusive of all sectors from homegrown industry and brands to large manufacturers such as ourselves. The apparel industry is ready for and committed to continuous change for the better, and forums such as this act as a thought catalyst.
LS: This is the first time that the forum will be held as an independent entity. This is a big deal because it means we are able to share a more focused, insightful delivery which will help our entire industry to come together and discuss the future as a united front. It’s very exciting.
Q: What about the speakers and the agenda. What’s it looking like this year?
AH: Actually, I think it’s one of the best that the forum has ever presented. Looking from an apparel industry perspective, there are several fantastic thinkers, strategists and opinion leaders whose viewpoints on fashion are likely to enlighten us all. I’m particularly looking forward to the session by Ben Cavendar, the director of the China Market Research Group.
Q: The forum is dedicated to ‘design and make’. What are the sessions that are tackling this exclusively?
LS: Well, there are several sessions that go from design thinking to collaboration and cultivating design talent. Pano Anthos, who is the founder and managing director of XRC Labs, will talk on how to use design thinking in industry and business. XRC Labs itself is a fascinating business model where they constantly collaborate with independent designers, design schools and designer brands to launch new services, products, etc. which I feel is a great example for our industry as they look into incorporating more creativity into what they do.
Meanwhile, for those looking to cultivate design talent within their businesses, Michael Gutierrez, who is the founder of PODIUM Development, will also share some very valuable insights on how companies can instil design thinking into their work culture. A very honest and intimate look at the importance of discovering and nurturing talent will be highlighted with the inspiring true story of Amesh Wijesekera, a young Sri Lankan design graduate from AOD who recently showed at London Fashion Week; it will be a panel between him, Jane Rapley OBE ex-head of Central Saint Martins and Martyn Roberts, who is the director at Fashion Scout & Graduate Fashion Week, and Peter Towse, who is a former academic at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design.
The South Asian Apparel Leadership Forum is held as part of the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week on 28 October at Mercedes Benz Center- DIMO 800. Mercedes Benz Fashion Week is conceptualised by AOD along with the DIMO Mercedes-Benz as Fashion Runways Partner, Endorsement Partners – EDB and JAAF, Industry Patrons - MAS Holdings, Brandix and Hirdramani, Thread and Zip Partner – COATS, Fashion Retail Partner - Fashionmarket.lk, Hair and Makeup - Salon KESS, Official Host - Mount Lavinia Hotel, Official, Airline Partner – Etihad Airways, Technology Partner - GT Nexus, Cultural Partners – German Embassy of Sri Lanka and Brazilian Embassy – Sri Lanka, Print Media Partners - Wijeya Newspapers, Online Media Partner - Life Online, Beverage Partner – Freelanka, Official Telecommunications Partner – Dialog Print Partner – Softwave and Paper Partner – Papyrus.
For partnerships, participation and more information on the South Asian Apparel Leadership Forum contact 0115867772/3, firstname.lastname@example.org AOD No. 29, Lauries Road, Colombo 4.