‘Sri Lanka Peace Collection’ is the Government’s initiative to provide livelihood support for war widows through the country’s handloom sector.
“The Sri Lanka Peace Collection has very high potential,” US Ambassador Patricia Butenis said after a special presentation and a discussion facilitated by Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen recently.
Butenis was attending the second round of discussions on the ‘Sri Lanka Peace Collection’ along with the officials of Sri Lanka Export Development Board, the Textiles Department, Department of Commerce and National Entrepreneurs Development Authority represented the Government of Sri Lanka on this occasion.
Attending the discussions along with Butenis were Edward P. Heartney, Counsellor on Economic and Commercial Affairs, US Embassy and Laura A. Gonzalez, Private Enterprise Officer, US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Preliminary discussions were held with Butenis on 6 January 2011 to explore possible market access for the ‘Peace Collection’ in the US.
Himali Jinadasa, Advisor to the Minister of Industry and Commerce and Convenor of the ‘Sri Lanka Peace Collection’ project, made the special presentation on the collection on 3 November to Butenis.
She and Minister Bathiudeen discussed the many ways in which the US assistance could be incorporated into the ‘Peace Collection’ project and jointly evaluated the next steps on how to move the project forward.
According to Ministry sources, Butenis announced: “This collection of fabrics is vibrant, colourful and of high quality. The ‘Sri Lanka Peace Collection’ has very high potential.”
Minister Bathiudeen, apprising Butenis, said: “The ‘Peace Collection’ is our effort to support the war widows of the north and east. We have already received support from USAID and UNESCO for this unique project.”
The collection is scheduled to be launched at the Sri Lanka Expo 2012, the mega export show held in Sri Lanka in March 2012, after a 15-year lapse. Thereafter, the collection will be launched in Washington, New York and Los Angeles with support from the US Trade Representative for Central and South Asia and the US Embassy in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (SLEDB), Department of Commerce and Textile Unit of Ministry of Industry and Commerce of Sri Lanka.
Handloom experts praised the latest development.
“The US support is good news for the ‘Peace Collection’ and also the Sri Lankan handloom industry in general.” said Senaka De Silva, a leading Sri Lankan fashion designer of international fame who has been in the fashion industry for over 25 years and the Designated Designer for the project.
De Silva has worked on researching and restoring age-old textile techniques in Sri Lanka. His vast collection has a Sri Lankan identity and is admired by international buyers in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Rome, Oman, Dubai and more recently, in Mumbai.
Sri Lanka’s handloom sector is a low cost but high earning industry. Its annual production exceeds six million metres of looms with an estimated annual production value of Rs. 1,500 m ($ 13.19 m), all of which are swallowed by both local and international demand.
The production is labour intensive and the industry consumes less electricity and utilities while generating higher employment. At present, there are 511 weaving centres with 2,971 weavers and more than 10,000 looms in Sri Lanka assisted by 22 dying houses.
More than 15000 personnel are engaged in the handloom industry. The key Lankan Provinces for handlooms are the Wayamba, Western, and Central Provinces. The eastern regions of Sri Lanka too were reputed for handlooms but the 2004 tsunami disaster inflicted damage on eastern production. Despite this, eastern handlooms continue to command buyer appeal.
The handloom textile export target for 2011 set by the EDB under the Ministry of Industries is US$ 1.29 million (Rs. 146 million). Among the international markets that vie for Sri Lankan handlooms are Italy, Germany, France, UK, Norway, Netherlands, Maldives and Thailand.
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce is also pushing the ‘Sri Lanka Peace Collection’ which follows the renowned Rwandan Peace Collection model. Based on the ‘trade instead of aid’ philosophy, the Rwandan Peace Collection, made available at Macy’s department store based in the US, consists of traditionally woven baskets direct from Rwanda. Created by Rwandan widows, the basket exports that began in 2005 became one of Rwanda’s biggest exports by 2010, sustaining the weavers and their families.
The Sri Lankan initiative also plans to support a portion of the female-headed households in the North and East Provinces with livelihood support while assisting towards their responsibility of looking after the needs of nurturing their families.
The project will be implemented through existing weaving centres in the Districts of Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa and Ampara.
Previously, on 22 September Minister Bathiudeen announced that the ‘Peace Collection’ project had been strengthened by support and facilitation from UNESCO. Minister Bathiudeen said this during his meeting with Sri Lanka UNESCO National Commission Secretary General Prithi Perera on 22 September.
During the meeting in Colombo, Perera announced UNESCO’s support for the ‘Sri Lanka Peace Collection’. UNESCO has also given due recognition for the programme’s goals in strengthening sustainable and cultural development through the project and will at some point facilitate a launch of the collection in Paris, UNESCO HQ.