Inside Garment Factories in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka (updated April 2023)

Garment factories in Vietnam
Garment factories in Cambodia
Garment factories in Sri Lanka

Discussion questions (proposed by students in FASH455, spring 2023)

  • Based on the videos, does the flying geese concept still work today? Why?
  • Do you think Western fashion brands and retailers’ increasing emphasis on sustainability and social responsibility in apparel sourcing reduces Asian suppliers’ competitive disadvantage? Why or why not?
  • With Asian countries increasingly leveraging their labor advantages alongside advanced technologies, is the prospect of expanding nearshoring even less likely? What is your assessment?
  • What is your vision for the recycled clothing supply chain? Why or why not do you think Asian countries will continue to dominate?

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

20 thoughts on “Inside Garment Factories in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka (updated April 2023)”

  1. These videos demonstrate the differences between apparel manufacturers very well. Clearly, Sri Lanka has a factory shown that is LEED certified, very high-technology, and needs fewer workers to run due to the investments in technology. Cambodia was a step below, with a more crowded workspace, dimmer lighting, and an interesting system that brings pieces of fabric automatically to workers without them moving. Finally, Vietnam’s factory had the least new technology but seemed to have the most workers within it. Considering this, it is interesting to see that Sri Lanka has the lowest exports of apparel compared to Cambodia and Vietnam. However, Sri Lanka has apparel exports as 44% of its total compared to just 12% of Vietnam’s. I believe the main reason that Vietnam has so many more factories and exports from Western brands is due to their low cost of labor. All of the technology that is invested in the factory in Sri Lanka adds to the costs of apparel sourcing, which some brands may not be willing to spend.

    1. Great thoughts. I also want to add that the apparel supply chain in Asia is constantly evolvoing. Based on the flying geese model we discussed in class, you may envision how these three countries’ apparel production capabilities may continue to develop and change over the next 5-10 years.

  2. After watching the videos of garment factories in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka, it is interesting to see the differences. Sri Lanka stood out to me the most as they use modern machinery and solar paneled energy, and makes sure each garment is up to quality standards. The use of technology has them at an advantage because they can keep up with demand and needs fewer workers. This is shown through the lowest number of workers and factories present, according to Asia Garment Hub. Although, in terms of sourcing, this may come at a more expensive price. Vietnam’s factory environment seems to be the most different compared to Sri Lanka. The factory has a high number of workers. Clearly, newer technology is not relied on. The United States holds the highest percentage of exports from Vietnam, which could be because of cheaper costs. Overall, comparing the three factories is interesting and puts into perspective how exports are affected.

    1. Good thoughts! Regarding your last point—I think Vietnam overall is a more mature apparel production and sourcing base than Sri Lanka and Cambodia. This explains why Vietnam had a higher market share. This also applies to the US market market—as we mentioned in class, Vietnam is often regarded as the “Next China.” However, as Vietnam is becoming more “expensive,” more sourcing orders are going to lower production places like Bangladesh and Cambodia. See the latest US apparel import data:

  3. After seeing the inside the 3 garment factories, huge differences stood out to me. For starters, Vietnam has significantly less machinery than Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Being so, I can understand the price difference you mentioned regarding Vietnam being more “expensive”. With more hands on labor, more employees have to be paid. Moving forward, the demand for clothing is also a factor that can vary the operations of garment factories. Vietnam has a larger market, with a population of almost 100 million, which means there may be more opportunities for domestic sales. Cambodia and Sri Lanka have smaller markets but may have different export markets, such as Europe or the US, which could have varying demand patterns. This can be an issue when companies attempt to source from the smaller prices. If Vietnam is too pricy, and other areas may not have everything they need, it proposes tough conflict.

    1. Good observation. Just to add that the videos reveal Asian factories’ ambition and continuous efforts to make their garment production more efficient and competitive. In other words, despite China’s declining market shares, other Asian suppliers are eager to play a more significant role as a supplier for Western fashion brands and retailers.

    2. I agree, if Vietnam raises their prices regardless of its more populated market and demand, it may become and issue when it comes to sourcing. Other countries may look elsewhere if Vietnam poses as too pricy when they can source from smaller areas.

  4. It is clear in these videos how Sri Lanka has substantial advantages in technology compared to Vietnam and Cambodia. By using solar energy to power their factories they also are advancing in sustainability which is the future of the industry. Being able to produce quality products in an eco-friendly manner puts Sri Lanka in a great standing when looking at the flying geese model.

  5. Vietnam was a mix of human labor and machinery, as there were workers operating machines and sewing, but also machine such as the one that was a shirt folder. Cambodia had what appeared to be more physical labor, with workers operating sewing machines and using machines to cut fabric and such. Cambodia also gave me the feeling that there was more room for injuries in the factory, as in the first scene, the worker was using a machine to cut fabric that was really close to his hands. Sri Lanka utilizes state of the art machinery and assembly lines that are assigned to specific products in order to promote efficiency. In addition, their use of polar power helps add to their sustainability which will increase their market as many companies are now emphasizing sustainability in the countries/markets they are working with. I feel that countries and the factories in them will have to change their practices to be more environmentally friendly and ethical, now that sustainability and labor laws are being emphasized and enforced.

  6. Its interesting to see the different types of technology in factories across multiple Asian countries. The factory in Sri Lanka seems to have the most updated machinery with solar panels that doesn’t need many workers. This does put them at an advantage with sustainability but a disadvantage with costs since new technology is more expensive. Vietnam on the other hand is more dependent on workers which can be beneficial since this would make production cheaper since they are labor abundant. Another interesting item is that the US is the top apparel for all countries. While both have their benefits and drawback, sustainability and transparency is a new trend in the industry so most brands will probably prefer Sri Lanka since they have this technology.

  7. It was interesting to compare the three factories between Cambodia, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. Vietnam’s seemed to be the furthest ahead with humans and machines working together to create products. The machines in the factory looked very new, sleek, and up to date in the factory and emphasized that they had moved up in the flying geese model. Sri Lanka’s also appeared to use state-of-the-art machinery and work together with these machines in order to create their pieces. The video that was created for Sri Lanka with the shots and dramatic voiceover and music also definitely emphasizes their technologically advanced workflow. Meanwhile, Cambodia while still having technologically advanced machines in the factory, appeared to be less advanced than the other two. There appeared to be more human and less machine work and the technology that was there appeared to be older or less advanced. It will be interesting to see how Cambodia’s apparel and general economy changes and evolves over time. It is important to consider how the flying geese model is constantly evolving for all countries and how these countries will all likely see tremendous growth in the next decade or two and grow their economies.

  8. After watching the videos of the garment factories in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka it was interesting to compare all three of them. I feel Vietnam would be the best to work with. It seems very clean, well spaced out, and good lighting to work in. They seem to have many machines where the human can work with the machine instead of doing everything by hand. Sri Lanka seems to be very advanced as well. Their video was different then the previous two, as it had a voice over and was more of a professional shot. They also seem to use advanced machinery. Cambodia’s factory was not bad by any means, by it was definitely the least advanced. It looked like the typical factory you would imagine. It makes me curious if within the next few years, they will be more developed in comparison to the other factories. Overall, these videos were very cool to watch, as I got a look into what factories are like in other countries and was able to compare them.

  9. After watching the videos of these garment factories you can clearly see the differences between the factories. I feel like Vietnam had the most advanced technology as well as a lot of space and good lighting to ensure no issues within the manufacturing process. I also found it interesting that although they still utilize this advanced technology, they still have workers to run the machinery to make sure everything is working properly. This allows for there to be a balance between technology and manual labor. Sri Lanka is also very advanced but has fewer workers to run their factories. This means there is definitely more opportunity for jobs in Vietnam’s manufacturing factories. Finally, Cambodia seemed to be at a step below these countries because of the smaller workspaces and dimmer lighting. Since the supply chain is always evolving, I believe these countries will start to change even more over the next few years in terms of new technology and manual labor.

  10. After watching all three videos it is interesting to compare and contrast the manufacturing practices of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. Each seems to have very high attention to detail with fast turn around time and an emphasis on quality. They are highly organized and very systematic. It is clear that Sri Lanka is the most advanced of the three with their use of technological advancements while Vietnam is much more reliant on manual labor. As far as concerns regarding near shoring with Asian countries increasingly leveraging their labor advantages and advanced technologies I think that there is room for both. There are always going to be products that are better manufactured in the US or Western Hemisphere no matter Asia’s advancements. As far as trendy, every-day apparel I do believe that Asia has the upper hand. Specialized goods on the other hand may want to stay close to home. There are also certain brands that capitalize on near shoring as part of their branding. I don’t believe that this will change. I think growth in near shoring may be a long shot, however, with more emphasis on sustainability it may pick up in the following years. Asia, however, is working towards a recycled clothing supply chain as well and they clearly have the technological advancements to support it so I do believe that they could continue to dominate this sector taking this advantage from near sourcing too.

  11. After watching the videos and seeing inside the 3 different factories in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. I definitely think that Vietnam’s is extremely innovative, while it had both machines and humans working simultaneously to make products. The machines in the Vietnam factory looked modern and advanced; the video also reiterated that they moved up on the flying geese model. Cambodia seemed to be more physical labor, as they had workers physically working the sewing machines and had workers using machines to cut fabrics. The fact that they had workers using machines and cutting fabrics so close to their hands made me feel like the safety precautions in the Cambodian factory are not strictly enforced; which could lead to accidents and create many issues. After viewing Sri Lanka’s video, it seems as though they are the most advanced out of the 3 factories. They have state-of-the-art machinery as well as use polar power which adds to their sustainability initiatives. While Sri Lanka is very advanced, there are fewer workers in the factories which leads to less job opportunities. Overall, I felt from most-advanced to least-advanced in terms of the 3 factories, I would rank them: Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia.

  12. After watching the videos on inside garment factories in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka, it is clear that there are very distinct differences between each factory and how they function. The Garment factories in Vietnam are organized and everyone has a designated role. However, the factories in Cambodia are unorganized, dirty, and people look unhappy. There is also an overall lack of advanced technology usage for modern machines. This being said, factories in Sri Lanka are very fortunate because they have all the modern and state of the art machinery that allows the work to be extremely efficient. They also have a very strategic organization system in which all garments are produced in assembly line and are assigned with specific product. While Sri Lanka may initially seem as though it is clearly succeeding in comparison to the other factories, Vietnam actually has many more factories due to their low labor costs. It is very interesting to see the distinct differences between different locations and how they run their factories. Every where has their own strengths and weaknesses and there is always tons of room for improvement.

  13. It was fascinating to see the differences in videos about the garment factories in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. Out of all of the factories shown, I was most impressed by the Vietnam factory. The Vietnam factory was more well-kept and clean than the Cambodia and Sri Lanka factories. However, Sri Lanka’s factory seemed to have better machinery/technology. Moreover, answering one of the discussion questions my classmates proposed, I think near-shoring will be even less likely due to the labor advantages and advanced technologies Asian countries have. I think fashion companies are attracted to countries that have technological advances because technology makes production more efficient. Also, the technological equipment in factories such as in Sri Lanka (Solar panels on top of their factories), allows them to seem sustainable which would attract fashion companies because sustainability in factories is a sourcing trend.

    1. Great thoughts! I am thinking about the future of made in Asia: cheap labor + modern technology =?

  14. It is interesting to compare garment factories in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka and point out their differences. Sri Lanka, for starters, is clearly highly developed in regards to technology along with having the lowest number of factories and factory workers of the three due to this. Their technology is well developed, up to date, used with solar panel energy. ALthough this can be beneficial and allow them to produce quicker, this technology comes at a high price. Cambodia is the second most developed of the three and Vietnam is the lowest. Vietnam evidently had the highest number of factory workers as well as workers that are doing the most “hands on” work, providing them with the competitive advantage in labor. Vietnam uses the least amount of technology, but also has the highest percentage of US exports. This is most likely due to the low prices that Vietnam provides to sourcers. After comparing these three countries it still must be considered that the supply chain is constantly changing and in relating this to the flying geese model, these three countries will continue to change as well.

  15. Based on the videos and models, it is clear that the flying geese model is still relevant today. From these videos, it is apparent that Sri Lanka is the “top goose” to keep up with. Their factories are the most technologically advanced. They use the most efficient machinery and least amount of human intervention. I’m not saying this is necessarily the best way to manufacture clothing, but these practices make Sri Lanka the goose to follow. Cambodia and Vietnam follow in the footsteps of Sri Lanka as they attempt to produce up to the same level and use the highest level of technology. They are slowly catching up to Sri Lanka with more machinery. This directly relates to and proves the flying geese model. As Sri Lanka, continues to advance, countries like Cambodia and Vietnam will keep advancing too but will not be able to surpass Sri Lanka’s technological sucess.

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