Footwear and Leather Fair 2017 provides the much needed leg-up to the industry

The 9th annual Footwear and Leather Fair successfully concluded at the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Memorial Exhibition Centre after three days, where the public were able to witness a massive range of quality footwear and leather accessories. This year attracted the highest number of visitors to the fair since its commencement, a press release said.

The release adds – Organized by the Sri Lanka Footwear and Leather Products Manufacturers, together with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Industrial Development Board of Ceylon, and the Sri Lanka Export Development Board, this year’s fair hosted over 100 local companies and 34 foreign companies, including 6 large industry stalwarts, 10 medium and over 70 SMEs, in addition to 125 sales outlets managed by the manufacturers.

The president of Sri Lanka Footwear and Leather Products Manufacturers’ Association P. G. D. Nimalasiri commenting on this year’s success said, "Having conducted this fair for the past nine years, we are confident that we have achieved the objective to a great extent, with the support of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, EDB, IDB and our sponsors. This fair has become a good platform to all the manufacturers to showcase their new products as well as an opportunity for the general public to experience first-hand the manufacturing processes, raw material and machinery. We were equally excited to have the presence of our neighbours, India for the fair this year."

The inaugural Footwear and Leather Fair was held in 2007, organized by the EDB together with other stakeholders of the industry. The objective for the initiative was to strengthen and sustain the image of the industry, promote Sri Lankan export capabilities among international buyers, and provide an opportunity for SMEs to improve their talents and capabilities to become export ready companies.

Addressing the invitees at the opening ceremony, chairman of the Fair organizing committee Rangith Hettiarachchy highlighted the overall position of the industry as well as future objectives. "With the continued safety net the industry enjoys through CESS, we have been able to make major savings in foreign exchange. The new hope we have is the GSP+ concession which the government is lobbying for. We intend to use it strategically by following the concept of Global Product Sharing (GPS) with India. In combining India’s strength in supplying raw material and guidance in product development, along with our talent and value addition, we are hopeful of entering the world market and the European market in particular.

The footwear sector alone in Sri Lanka employs over 40,000 personnel directly and indirectly at present. The leather industry is inclusive of eight large scale and five small scale tanneries across the island. "As the government has already given the green light to setup a tannery and Footwear cluster in Batticlaloa, we anticipate a rapid growth in the coming years. As a largely expanding industry we see heavy saturation. Therefore, we need to go global. One area that we need to improve further is our product development. Currently China dominates the world market with a share of 6/10 pairs. Therefore we need relentless dedication to make this dream a reality. The Industrial Development Board of Ceylon is currently providing the much needed training through their affiliation with design centres like the Ratmalana Footwear Training Centre and the University of Moratuwa", added Rohan Somawansa, Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications, DSI Samson Group (Pvt.) Ltd.

The footwear and leather industry in Sri Lanka has been identified as a value added manufacturing sector that has taken up the role of generating export revenue to the country. Commenting on the current industry landscape Dr. Malitha Kannangara, Director of Lakpa Footwear (Pvt.) Ltd. stated, "When the bigger players enter the export market, a vacuum is created in the local market. The SMEs can enter to fill that space. This becomes a cycle and it eventually expands. Footwear and leather has already become a forex saving industry and we are sure that it will become a forex earning industry in the near future."