Myanmar’s apparel industry has both grown and declined over the past two decades subject to changing international environment and consequent availability and absence of market access. New challenges are also expanding for Myanmar, with infrastructural services, electricity and transportation, being unreliable and costly and western companies facing stricter international standards on labor conditions, requiring due diligence before taking on new suppliers.
However, the prospects are getting brighter for the apparel industry in Myanmar due to a sharp rise in the local currency’s real exchange rate, pushing up worker’s wages, in terms of the US dollar.
The birth of “civilian” government in March 2011 improved Myanmar’s relations with the international community and Western sanctions were largely lifted by the Obama administration. This had American companies, including Coca Cola, General Electric Co. and APR Energy, embark on significant investments in Myanmar.
Gap Inc., the first major U.S. apparel retailer to tap Myanmar’s garment industry,has commissioned two factories in Yangon to produce jackets and outerwear for its Old Navy and Banana Republic brands.Gap will benefit in two ways from expanding into Myanmar -its clothing can be produced at a lower cost and it now has an additional hub for its growing operations in Asia. The company has also launched education and training programs for Burmese women with the aid of U.S. agencies.If Gap’s efforts in Myanmar pay off, we could see a lot more retailers follow suit.