Exquisite Clothing – Gayani Gunawardena, Deputy General Manager of MAS Brands Sri Lanka

Having been on a journey for 14 years in FMCG and Apparel Retail, Gayani Gunawardena is the current Deputy General Manager of MAS Brands Sri Lanka. She began her career as a Management Trainee at British American Tobacco. After five years and has gained experience in marketing research, brand management, and sales in multiple countries – Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Bangladesh she joined Nestle as a Brand Manager. Post that she joined MAS Brands in 2013. During her tenure there, she handled multiple roles in product range management and marketing. Currently, as Deputy General Manager – MAS Brands Lanka, she heads the Sri Lanka business of MAS Brand’s cluster. MAS Brands is the business unit that handles amanté, MAS’s own premium lingerie brand currently available in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, and the Middle East.

Moreover, she is a CIM qualified graduate in Information Systems from Manchester Metropolitan University, coupled with an MBA in Marketing from the University of Colombo.

Gayani stated that the Sri Lankan Apparel Retail industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many brands and shop owners were seen struggling during and after lock-down, with some eventually closing down, and she anticipates that the Apparel Retail sector will struggle to return to normalcy for quite some time, as there has been a mindset change in shopping in general, particularly for something like clothing that is not a necessity.

“The year 2021 began with the hope that the vaccine rollout would give consumers more confidence to go out and shop, but we noticed that sales did not reach pre-COVID levels during the first two months.”

Having said that, she mentioned that the retail sector is gearing up for the upcoming season in a big way, and the best litmus test will be to see how much of these high expectations are met.

She then discussed her thoughts on the premium lingerie market in Sri Lanka. “With the arrival of several international brands, the premium and super-premium lingerie segment in Sri Lanka is gaining prominence within the category. The consumer is now exposed to a greater variety of fashionable lingerie made in accordance with international standards and trends. However, due to their high price tags, these products can only appeal to a limited number of customers. If we are to see growth in premium space brands, we must figure out how to bring in entry-level products to attract customers. With limited awareness and only in-store presence, it is difficult to see this segment of the category growing exponentially.”

The industry expert provided her point of view on the main roadblocks for the apparel sector in the best of time.

Ensuring Optimum Availability

Retailers will always face this challenge. Whether we are retailing locally manufactured or imported garments, all brands are in some way or another dependent on a complex supply chain, and the volatility of the same will have an impact on timely output.

Customer Loyalty

Building customer loyalty is another challenge that the Retail sector faces, given how crowded this space is. There is no reason for a customer to return to a single brand because no brand has yet devised a way to keep them coming back for more.

Price reductions/Discounts

The ever-expanding discount mindset championed by Ecommerce is posing a significant threat. Customers are almost always waiting for EOSS, year-end sales, or any other occasion-driven sale to buy on the cheap, and driving full-price sales is becoming increasingly difficult.

Minimum Order Quantities

Meeting minimum order quantities set by manufacturers would be the most difficult challenge when developing specialized/limited edition collections. And without them, it’s difficult to keep a brand’s novelty alive.

Speaking about the latest trend in the Intimate-wear industry, Gayani said that they have observed a high demand for loose-fitting clothing that can be worn all day and intimate wear that complements this clothing. Soft cotton fabrics, unlined and non-wired bras, and cotton panties have become high-rotation items in a lady’s underwear drawer.

Furthermore, Gayani outlined the strategies she believes will drive the intimate-wear category in the future.

1. A razor-sharp focus on basic/essential styles – This is where the volume is, and we need to ensure optimal availability and pricing for the core styles.

2. Fast product output – To improve availability, we need to shorten the product design/development/manufacturing cycle and begin churning out products at a faster pace in smaller batches.

3. Innovate – The COVID-19 has provided us with many insights into how category convergence occurred, and we must ensure that we cater to the new needs that have arisen as a result.

4. Capitalise on ECommerce growth – Customers are increasingly willing to buy online and pay with credit cards, as a result of their experience during lockdown, and we must ensure that we capitalize on this.

On a concluding note, she stated that her advice for a corporate young female. “Experiment and devote enough time to determine what you are passionate about; once you have done so, it will be simple to acquire the skillset and experience required to excel in your chosen field. If you have to wake up every day knowing that you get to do something you enjoy, you will automatically become an asset that an employer will value because you will be constantly looking for ways to improve your contribution to your role and to your organization. Then persevere, because hard work is always rewarded at some point.”

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