Kick-starting her career as a finance practitioner, SENPATHI JAYAWICKRAMA, DEPUTY GENERAL MANAGER AND HEAD OF BUSINESS STRATEGY AT MAS HOLDINGS – MAS KREEDA, holds great ardor for the potential of evolution in finance. After qualifying as a Chartered Management Accountant at the age of 20, she is now a Fellow Member of CIMA and CGMA, Associate of CPA Australia, Associate member of CIM and MBA holder from Cardiff Metropolitan University – UK where she also topped the batch in 2012.

Taking on her first job role as a project finance officer soon after her Advanced levels, Senpathi built a pathway from there on which provided her an array of experience across different industries such as Social Services, Freight Forwarding and Logistics, Finance Business Process Outsourcing, US Healthcare & Insurance and Apparel Manufacturing. These opportunities in turn expanded her exposure and provided her with experience on how different organizations function.

Senpathi subsequently moved from the field of finance to strategic planning and strategy management. Till date, she firmly believes that the functionality of finance should be much more than just reporting. “It has an ability to truly transform organizations through strategic insights”, she distinctly expresses.

Firm believer of life balance, Senpathi’s love for outdoors takes her on an activity-filled ride during her free times, be it cycling, running, weight training, mountaineering or traveling. There is certainly no greater joy than inhaling some fresh air while pursuing your passion.

In discussing the impact on the apparel industry due to the ongoing economic crisis, Senpathi speaks of how the nation’s main export markets, Europe and the US are slacking consequent to high inflationary pressures. “IMF downgraded the growth forecasts for 2023 for Europe’s largest 4 economies France, Germany, Italy and Spain with double digit inflation rates after 4 decades”, she explains. With the US facing similar situations and customers rationalizing inventory levels, the result has led to a slow movement of the goods and a severe demand drop across the industry. Giving an additional statement regarding the situation Senpathi says, “On the other hand, the situation at home has caused severe overhead spikes and has necessitated compensation adjustments to ensure that the people are taken care of at the best possible levels.”

Prior to the current economic predicament, the world came face to face with a global pandemic, one that certainly disrupted the supply chain. Such disturbances led to increased freight costs by about seven folds in a span of eighteen months for which the apparel industry most certainly took a hit, one that only amplified amidst the Russian-Ukraine conflict.

Despite the present situation seeming blue, the future appears to show signs of significant improvements for the industry. “Talking of the future for the apparel industry, there are massive shifts in a few areas that I believe would transform the apparel industry”, Senpathi positively shares. Customers becoming increasingly woke and attentive about how fashion represents them is leading the industry towards adoption of ‘sustainable fashion’.

Catering to us with context, Senpathi talks about how just one cotton shirt requires approximately 2500 liters of water for production while the fashion industry, all in all, uses around 93 billion cubic meters of water per year. Similarly, fabric waste accumulates up to 92 million tons each year and is predicted to reach 130 million tons by 2030. “This calls for options for circular fashion and close looping and as manufacturers, we have a massive role to play in this equation”, she says.

Technology as we know it, plays an integral part in what the future would look like. Massive changes to manufacturing processes and functionality of garments enabled through tech integration is happening as we speak. “Irrespective of it being athleisure, performance wear, femtech or wearable tech, technology is changing the quantum of data gathered about human bodies while improving the functionality of clothing”, Senpathi explains, “As manufacturers, it is critical that these changes are embraced as early adopters to be relevant and competitive.”

Labor intensive industries are turning into autonomations and robotics currently, where increases in production volumes necessitate mass scale autonomation. However, these require a fine balance between investments and returns in a country where the labor cost is still quite low. Finding the evolution of web3, introduction to metaverse, the most interesting amongst the latest trends by far, Senpathi shares with us her opinion on the matter, “This could change how we perceive fashion to a greater extent in the next decade. With the introduction of NFTs and “phygital” garment possibilities, there could be changes in physical garment demand patterns. We will know in due time if this is a fad or not.”

Further explaining what lies ahead for the industry, Senpathi also talks about virtual fashion shows, augmented and virtual reality-based dressing room apps and customized avatars, all of which are sure to change consumer interactions. Such changes could potentially lead to reduced brick-and-mortar retailing, as the immersive shopping experience will be shaped by web2 and web3 integration. “Some of these are in fact happening as we speak, such as the NY virtual fashion week that happened in mid Sep or the Nike x RTFKT Hoodie launch”, Senpathi mentions with enthusiasm.

While the challenge is in understanding where real consumer value lies, being prepared for such change and developing the capabilities will give any organization a head start, Senpathi remains ever so hopeful. “It’s going to be a very interesting decade for the apparel industry – a true VUCA world and how we respond to these will make or break the industry in Sri Lanka as well”, she avidly expresses.

Talking about the management roles in the apparel industry, Senpathi admits there to be a lower female representation. The apparel industry unquestionably exists with the prime workforce being women at the factory floor. “Firstly, I believe it is important to accept that there is a problem. This will enable us to be more innovative about this.” Senpathi also speaks of how MAS is actively working towards empowering women to reach their full potential through a wide array of initiatives.

Unearthing inspiration from her mother, Senpathi conveys a deep sense of gratitude for seeing the first glimpse of a working woman and the possibility of managing it all at home. Reflecting on the women who joined the workforce and leadership roles before her, Senpathi says that “There were women who have been brave enough to fight this tide for decades and made the “woman leader” a possibility today”.

Despite sounding controversial, Senpathi suspects women to limit themselves as much as the world outside does. “We tend to believe that the “glass ceiling” exists and the more we believe in it, the more we feel like we need to break it through”, she says. “I strongly believe that anyone could be what they want as long as they are focused, disciplined and determined.”

Encouraging all women to put themselves out there and ask what is needed, she assures that the worst case being a rejection would only further help put things into perspective. Senpathi also reminds all to stay true to oneself, enjoy the journey and never underestimate the impact of lifelong learning.

Wrapping up this article with parting words of wisdom, she says, “Leaders come in different shapes, sizes and genders! As long as your work speaks for yourself, you stay humble in your failures and victories, collaborate while willing to always be a learner and push yourself beyond what is expected out of you, there will always be opportunities for you to lead – irrespective of you being an alpha or a beta personality.”

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