As a director at Brandix Apparel, a billion-dollar apparel and textile group operating in four countries and as managing director Brandix India Apparel City, Hasitha Premaratne has cross-country and cross-disciplinary responsibility. He is overseeing operations across geographical settings, managing the changing dynamics of a global market place and looking at ways to build on intrinsic advantages of each location.
“We are seated in Sri Lanka with a strong skill set and capabilities and a resource and labour pool in the South Asian subcontinent. If you look at us as a subcontinent player, rather than a Sri Lankan player, leverage the skill sets that we have, and play a regional role, I think the sky is the limit,” Premaratne says.
Using Sri Lanka as a springboard, Brandix has moved out harnessing multiple competitive advantages of the region, while leveraging partnerships with niche technology leaders from beyond South Asia. South Asia is fast becoming a preferred investment and sourcing destination for apparel, with a shift underway from China. Brandix is already in Bangladesh where it acquired an existing operation, and expansions are underway.If you look at us as a subcontinent player, rather than a Sri Lankan player, leverage the skill sets that we have, and play a regional role, I think the sky is the limit,”
“If you look at us as a subcontinent player, rather than a Sri Lankan player, leverage the skill sets that we have, and play a regional role, I think the sky is the limit.”
Premaratne joined the group in 2006 and cut his teeth as part of a team that set up Brandix India Apparel City in Vishakhapatnam, India, which employed around 22,000 people by 2019, compared to about 30,000 at its home-base Sri Lanka. He recalls the area as a ‘jungle’ when the regional government, impressed by the quality and working conditions of Brandix factories in Sri Lanka, invited the firm to Vishakhapatnam and brought utilities to their doorstep. But Brandix built all internal infrastructure, including roads.
Premaratne worked on the side of corporate finance, bringing in investments and equity partnerships to make the project, of which he is now managing director, a reality. The thousand-acre park, in a country where big industrial complexes are commonplace, is the facility employing the largest number of women in a single location in India.
With facilities ranging from swimming pools and gyms for staff and substantial investments made in effluent treatment, the firm is now getting invitations from other states to set up similar apparel cities. Brandix India Apparel City also employs around 400 Sri Lankans at technical and managerial levels. Though the group keeps ‘localising’ skills, the expansion of the complex generates demand for expat skills. “We are not just exporting goods, we are also exporting technical skills to the world,” Premaratne says.
He joined Brandix with a background in equities research and investment banking with training from JP Morgan under his belt. The skills came in handy when he played a crucial role in taking Teejay Lanka, a knit fabric maker partnering with Textured Jersey of Hong Kong, public in 2011. Teejay also has operations in India. To keep the edge in a global playing field, Brandix has to be a cost, technology and product leader. Premaratne says the group is “innovating from the product angle as well as from cost and process.”
Brandix is continuously drawing in stateof-the-art machinery and technology which brings out more output while utilising less space and resources, he says. Process innovation is a challenge as it also requires changes across the supply chain, which goes beyond Brandix. A mindset transformation is needed to change from ‘traditional’ ways to more cost-efficient and productive methods by starting with a ‘zero-base’ and eliminating layers which are no longer required, Premaratne says.
At the same time, Brandix is also stretching the group’s product frontier by stitching partnerships with international leaders in the chosen niches. Managing global alliances is a crucial skill needed in a group that now straddles Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and also Haiti halfway across the globe, employing 60,000 people.
In 2017, Premaratne helped establish a $70 million joint venture factory with Best Pacific International Holdings of China, bringing warp knit synthetic fabric making capability to Sri Lanka, assisting the group maintain its edge on the latest trends in sportswear. “As a result, we have a new business on the synthetic side, which is growing in a big way globally,” Premaratne says. “We are being lifted as a country and also as a region. In India and Bangladesh, there was no proper high-end synthetic manufacturer.”
At Teejay Lanka, a Sri Lanka based weft knit fabric maker where he is director, a move into lace was cemented in 2019 by partnering with China’s Luen Fung Textiles (LFT). Brandix started working with brands that retailed in Western markets including Victoria’s Secret, Intimissimi, Calvin Klein, Marks & Spencer, Gap and Decathlon. Premaratne says the firm is now pushing the frontier roping in Asian focused brands like UNIQLO. The growing affluence of Asia is expanding retail markets.
Western brands are also looking at expanding sales in Asia, including India, which is giving Brandix a head start with a supply chain already in place. Brandix is anticipating and driving change as well as keeping up with innovations made elsewhere. As group finance director in 2016, Premaratne helped set up the long-range planning department of the group which looks at the world and drives strategy. “We look at the market and where the business is heading, and as a whole, the industry,” Premaratne says.
“And then how as an organisation, we should build our customer strategy, the location strategies, the people strategy, and also the supply chain strategy, which we have to then formulate into a set of strategic initiatives to make decisions.”