July 17, 2015 (LBO) - Sri Lankan fashion entrepreneurs are open to vast opportunities in the digital space but will have to face a different set of challenges, a Sri Lankan entrepreneur said. “The number of opportunities in the digital domain as an entrepreneur is enormous,” Linda Speldewinde, Founder and Managing Director, AOD International Design Campus & Sri Lanka Design Festival said. “It is almost like living in a separate world.” Speldewinde launched a retail fashion domain fashionmarket.lk recently, which is an online platform with a couple of apparel industry brands in Sri Lanka as well as designers from AOD. Shopping fashion in digital space or the marriage between fashion and technology seems a promised land, a fertile breeding ground, an area ripe for innovation. Even mobile applications have been created to shop for fashion from wherever you are. However despite all of that, shopping fashion online does not account for a huge portion of the digital space. “The apparel industry is the last of the industries that has still survived the digital disruption,” Ashroff Omar, Chief Executive, Brandix said. “Apparel retail is just 10 to 15 percent online. Because still there is the element of touch feel fit which has hindered the sudden or the huge growth in online sales.” Critics argue that physical fashion shopping are limited in terms of the number of people that they can cater to but online or digital space offer growing number of customers and the millennial generation who lives in a digital world. Speaking about her new venture Speldewinde said, “I got the idea, because about two and half years ago I completely stopped going into a store or shopping because I actually got so bored with it, I started shopping fashion online and I became so obsessed,” Speldewinde said. “Once you get hooked on the habit of shopping online and you have this whole world of shops open to you,” “Then it is very difficult to walk into that one shop and try to buy fashion from there.” However she added that Sri Lankans are not yet ready for this kind of experience which makes the online business difficult. “Being an entrepreneur in Sri Lanka is difficult and being an entrepreneur in digital domain is even more difficult because people here are not familiar, they are not living in the digital world and they are not living in the real world both,” “People are uncomfortable about it and they are not ready,” Speldewinde said. “Until you actually launched it you really do not know what you are going into because, the digital domain is quite new to Sri Lanka.” Nevertheless Speldewinde is keen to take her fashion venture on to the global platform as the next step. Shopping fashion through social media is another way of developing a retail business. A lot of Sri Lankan entrepreneurs have gone into face book or launch their business on Facebook which has shown a quite a success. Flashing Data According to “We are Social’s newDigital, Social and Mobile in 2015 report indicates that 2015 will see growing numbers of using digital space. The report shows, about three billion people are actively using internet out of the 7.2 billion world’s population while two billion people are active in social media networks. The report says it expects that mobile will help to push internet penetration beyond 50 percent of the world’s population during mid to late 2016. “Before that, though, we expect to see social media penetration reach one-third of the world’s population – likely by the end of 2015 – with new users in developing nations accounting for almost all of this growth.” Digital, Social and Mobile in 2015 report by We are Social said. In Asia Pacific 1,407 million people are active internet users out of a 4,021 population while having 3,722 million mobile connections. Internet connection speeds vary significantly around the world too, from an average of more than 25 Mbps in South Korea, to barely two Mbps in India. Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the USA make up the top five fastest nations after South Korea, with each registering speeds in excess of 10 Mbps, putting them well above the global average of4.5 Mbps. Sri Lanka has 4.8 Mbps average internet speed and 65 percent of the population using internet connections with speeds above four Mbps, data showed. The United Kingdom leads in terms of active e-commerce use, with data suggesting that almost two-thirds of the country’s population bought something online in the past month, data from GlobalWebIndex shows. Germany and South Korea follow close behind at 63 percent and 62 percent respectively, while the USA comes in fourth at 56 percent. South and Southeast Asia lag when it comes to e-commerce though, with data suggesting barely 14 percent of Indians bought something online in the past month. Change Business Model “Truly disruptive companies are not waiting for the market to be ready for them, they are not waiting for the consumer to be ready for them or to consumer to ask their products because the consumer in many cases does not know,” Mani Kulasooriya, Cofounder and Chief Executive of Leapset said. “As an example, in the case of ABNB, if you are a large hotel change, would an executive there with all the marketing data that they have in front of them ever believe that consumers who has an extra bed room would rent it out and there would be demand for it. Is the consumer ready for that? The answer would have been no and that is why ABNB didn’t get funded for two years. But they pushed alone and I agree with Ashroff that when it’s comes to apparel people do like touch and feel,” “But if you want to be disruptive you have to play a big role in changing that user behavior.” An entrepreneur has a choice of going completely digital based on the business model or to have a brick and motor store while having a gateway to digital space, like web or a mobile app. “There are ways to approach digital space,” Speldewinde said. “You can be a brick and motor store and you can have a digital space through a web site and have the business that way, or you start right from scratch as an entrepreneurial venture going totally digital like Asos.com, the biggest online fashion store in the UK, which has structured itself totally online and they discipline themselves to stay true to that vision.” Speldewinde says to go completely digital, the business has to change and discipline its customer behavior as well. Pointing out her recent venture “fashion.lk”, she says, “In my business, we do the delivery on the same day. We have tied up with an entrepreneur for that. So the customers’ orders 10 in the morning and they could have the package on the same day to go out,” “In our model, we are targeting the corporate business women who are always busy. If she wants to go out in the night she can surf the internet in the morning and by 12 noon she will get her package,” “But you have to discipline the consumer also because they are not used to it,” “As an example, some of the consumers asking where is our store, can we come and exchange or return , so we have to say no and we say that we will send the courier back to you, because we offer same day returns,” “It’s just the case that training the Sri Lankan consumer.” Speldewinde said. She was speaking at the LBR LBO Enterprise Summit 2015 themed “Sri Lanka technology drives disruption, embrace or face extensions” in Colombo, recently.