For businesses in the field of large-scale manufacturing, a critical factor
that determines their future and success is a key decision made at their very inception- the
location. More often than not, businesses in these fields which start operations in their
respective nations look into expanding into international markets to set up base, to further
streamline their supply and demand management.
During this stage, some key aspects that businesses would consider a location to satisfy include
easy trade access, consumer/market proximity, overall affordability and talent with sound
For The Wilkins Group, one of the worlds’ leading and largest family-owned entities in textile
and food packaging based in the UK, it was important to maintain a strong hold on the apparel
industry that was rapidly relocating.
In the 90s, most textile firms were relocating to Sri Lanka, and backed with a lot of compelling
reasons; the Group ventured into Sri Lanka and set up their first offshore factory in 1999
through a joint venture agreement with Sri Lankan blue chip conglomerate Aitken Spence,
creating Wilkins Spence Packaging Lanka (Pvt) Ltd.
“One reason for picking Sri Lanka was that communication was not a barrier, all of us spoke the
same language, and most of our customers also came to the market and set up their factories
there to take advantage of the location,” said Andre Wilkins, Group Chairman of The Wilkins
Group UK, and Managing Director for Wilkins Spence Packaging Lanka (Pvt) Ltd.
“Another reason is the fact that the country rests along the main trade route to China, with easy
access to other South Asian markets of interest, so it was even more compelling to opt for Sri
Lanka. Other regions have been more expensive and more restrictive in quite a lot of ways. Sri
Lanka in comparison has been benefiting from this.”
The Group also benefitted by receiving approval from the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka
(BOI), which was “an important factor in supporting us and sporting the concept of us coming
over and bringing over all our technology and training everybody.”
Soon, the Group acquired full ownership of the factory which encouraged them to invest in more
suitable machinery and expansions, to meet the affordability and flexibility requirements of their
customers. Their operations continued despite external factors which would have theoretically
deterred their capabilities and performance.
Sri Lanka saw the end of a 30-year civil war, survived a global pandemic, has been victim to
political coups and faced a catastrophic economic crisis. But despite all restrictive measures,
businesses were still able to operate.
Most local authorities as well as the BOI have shown exceptional interest and support to ensure
that businesses operate without any shortfall. This was felt by The Wilkins Group as when the
logistics aspect of their business was halted due to the lockdown during the pandemic;
authorities were quick to assist to continue their operations, closing the factory for a total of only
three days. The factory hasn’t had to shut down a single day since.
“The most recent challenges we faced were with power cuts and inflation. The lack of fuel has
also been adverse, as we’ve been running on diesel generators. But with the support of the BOI
and relevant local authorities, we were able to navigate through these obstacles,” notes Andre
While the Sri Lankan situation was in recovery following rapid inflation and economic instability,
many of the Group’s customers were moving production around.
“Bangladesh is one of the places our customers rushed to, and we too have set up a satellite
operation there. Some would say we are moving our Sri Lanka business- but we actually aren’t.
Our Sri Lankan business evolved into the production of higher end products, going up in scale
by quality and production.”
“One other thing we’ve been able to do is consolidate our Group purchasing in the UK, which
has been beneficial to our businesses in Sri Lanka, assuring its continuity of supplies, family
values and making sure we have one thing in mind: looking after our customers.”
With every new development the Group achieved in Sri Lanka, it only made sense to further
invest into another factory. The new factory saw a US$3 million investment made by the Group,
with a grand opening in 2015, which was supported and endorsed by the BOI, local authorities,
and was even marked as the country’s first apparel packaging sector LEED-certified factory.
During the pandemic, the Group also received support from industry bodies such as the Joint
Apparel Association Forum (JAAF).
“We were able to keep running, because it is an important industry for other industries to
continue manufacturing. To keep the supply chain we were able to keep running without any
major difficulties. In that context, everyone in Sri Lanka was very supportive.”
Wilkins Spence Sri Lanka is a BOI company and has been in business in Sri Lanka for over
fifteen years as a subsidiary of The Wilkins Group UK. The Wilkins Group started their facility in
Sri Lanka with the advantage of its strategic location (the key logistic hub in ancient silk route) at
the inception. Today the importance of having a facility in a strategic location where east and
west is logistically connected most efficiently and cost-effectively has become a decisive factor
in the modern speed-based fast react business forum which helps brands to be competitive with
the pricing, profitability and sustainability of their businesses.