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Inspired AOD Alumni poised to ‘Create an Impact’ at Sri Lanka Design Festival 2021

What advice would you impart on the next generation of fashion designers to inspire them to make a real impact and show off the true Sri Lankan flair on an international level?

When there’s a will, there is a way, and AOD certainly proved its iron clad will as the Sri Lanka Design Festival 2021 is set to take place starting from 15th - 17th January. This year’s grand design festival is expected to be slightly different from its previous editions. Living upto the theme of ‘creating an impact’ AOD has conceptualized the event to be conducted virtually, ensuring that the true Sri Lankan elegance is made visible for the entire world to see.

Making an appearance at the grand event are the celebrated alumni of AOD, including the multi-talented, internationally acclaimed prize winner Amesh Wijesekera.

These seasoned protagonists are ready to share their inspiring work and the progress that they have made in creating an impact through different design disciplines.

Alongside the prize winner is a selection of his old AOD comrades who graciously agreed to share a prelude of what the audience can expect during SLDF 2021.

Amesh WijesekeraA celebration of color, culture, community and craftsmanship Famed for his outstanding luxurious color palettes and south Asian narrative, Sri Lankan Fashion and Textile Designer Amesh Wijesekera has pushed ideas of gender and sustainability to lay claim to a plethora of acclaimed global awards. The crown jewel of AOD has been supported and recognized by the likes of the British Fashion Council, British Council, Somerset House Galleries and Mercedes Benz fashion programmes to name a few. Each of his work are individually handspun, hand knitted or hand printed using dead stock textiles and trims carefully salvaged from Sri Lankan street markets and industrial waste. He firmly believes that every loose thread, mark or stain, echoes a story of the past. ‘The imperfect beauty of artisanal craftsmanship results in something special. No two pieces are the same’.

What ignited your passion for fashion design? “I always liked the concept of “making”. From the earliest time I remember I grew up as the ‘arts & crafts’ kid. Painting, dressing up my soft toys, setting up puppet show sets and shows, and playing ‘selam bath’ in the garden soothed me. I was involved in theatre and productions throughout my school life. I was fascinated by all the costumes, makeup, sets and theatrics of putting a show. Playing dress up was fun too!

My mom is an interior designer and I used to always help her select colours, materials and objects for her projects. Her family came from a very creative background of artists, architects, florists and horticulturists.

Thus design and creativity was always around me. In contrast my dad comes from the cooperate world and sport. Seeing him go to work in shirt, trouser, tie and shoe made me know this was not what I want the rest of my life to be, The everyday 9 - 5 grind bored me. I initially was into interiors however I used to always help my mom dress up and acted as her personal stylist. Helping her drape a saree or pick the right shoe are some of my fondest childhood memories. I think this was my happy place and introduction to fashion.

“Inspirations can come from anywhere. I consider my personal journey as a great source of inspiration. The struggles that had to be faced, the obstacles that needed to be vanquished molded me into who I am today. The cross cultural identity that I have established by living between Sri Lanka and London, the support group around me, my community and each and every memory that I have made at AOD drives me to become the best possible version of myself.”

What is your mindset going into the Sri Lanka Design Festival 2021? What do you plan to showcase at the event?

“I understand that this is the inaugural virtual design festival to take place in Sri Lanka. I am thrilled that AOD has taken the initiative to make this possible, especially with what is going on in the new normal.

It is great that there is a platform where all the creative minds of the country can get together and share their insight on the important issues as a collective effort. I personally intend to voice out my views on the ways to collaborate with one- another to address the affore mentioned issues and the manner in which everyone can bring forth a change. I look forward to hear the inspirational recollections of the journeys of my esteemed peers. Each of our paths has taken us on our own unique pathways, and it is exciting to give an ear to what they have to share.

I am certain that everyone present would have invaluable words of wisdom to share regarding means to create a positive change which puts Sri Lanka on the world map. Collectively, we have made a positive change, and an admirable impact, and we look forward to sharing these memories with the entire audience.”

How do you plan to create a real impact through your work during the virtual festival? “Here is a sneak peak of what to expect during the session. Collaboration with local artisans is important. I have personally worked with many handloom weavers, and the potential they have shown surely needs to be appreciated. That collaboration is important if the industry is to move forward.

Social sustainability is another aspect that needs to be addressed. There shall never be a shortage of cultural issues in Sri Lanka. Gender based discrimination and stereotypes hold back an individual from achieving their optimal potential. Socially dictated beauty standards affect a person’s self-confidence and thus lead to the formulation of an obscure interpretation of the society in general.

These are issues that are rarely addressed, especially in a country like Sri Lanka. An indepth discussion on such mind-opening topics is sure to make SLDF 2021 a worthwhile investment of the viewer’s time.”

What is it like to feature locally made designs and creative work on an international level?

“Initially, it was a pleasant surprise. It was unexpected given to the fact that nobody envisioned the island paradise of Sri Lanka capable and adept to wield such hidden potential. Typically, Sri Lankans are accustomed to Sarees, Batiks, Osarees, Sarongs and the latest hip Western attire shown on popular media. The choice of attire seemed to lack any variety.

Nobody knew that a Sri Lankan could create such marvelous kilt sweaters, crochets and the like. I am fortunate enough to understand that we are more than capable of excelling in this serene art, and managing to showcase these talents on an international level is an immense honor. Proving to the world that Sri Lankans are able to manufacture and combine each element to create a magnificent work of art is one of my grandest achievements”

How do you tackle your ‘lows’, and what is your perspective during your ‘highs’?

“As humans, everyone has to go through these phases. Either good or bad, both aspects are an experience. There is something to learn from every experience. Regardless of the circumstance, being patient and humble builds up your personality.”

How do you plan to take your talents in fashion design to the next level?

“We never stop learning. All the fields that I have learnt so far add to my craft. There is a lot to learn from who you work with. I aspire to work with more communities whilst gathering and sharing knowledge during the process. The end goal is to become a key contributor who creates a wholesome and united community.”

“I will keep it short and simple. Never be afraid to be yourself, and always stay true to yourself. Imitating the rest gets you nowhere. In the end, you only forget who you are meant to be.”

Ishara Jayathileka- Cleansing the residue of the artists

Many stare in awe at the dazzling art that a fashion designer puts before their eyes. However, many fail to notice the wastage the art leaves in its wake. AOD Alumni Designer Ishara Jayathileka is set to present her very own suggestion for a sophisticated waste recycling project that cleanses mother earth from the clutches of pollution.

“The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world; just after the oil industry. The environmental damage increases as the industry grows. My focus in the proposed project will be to address the imperative need for a solution in replacing fast fashion with sustainable fashion. I am working on a recycling project by myself for the first collection. I have been collecting vintage textiles ever since I moved to Oslo to pursue by Master’s Degree in Fashion.

This project is the combination of my dreamy vintage aesthetic, easy-going nature, and desire to give new life to once forgotten treasures. While the fashion world is saturated with clothes not meant to last longer than a season, my work is intended as more than an impulse purchase.

My company is a single person company in Norway which I will be doing all the work by myself. I am offering one-of-a-kind creation that sublimates modernly from vintage and deadstock materials. I further look forward to working alongside Sri Lankan artisans in the future.”

Pathum Egodawatta A revolutionary change in typography As the Founder of Mooniak, and the Co- Founder of Akuru Collective, AOD Alumni Designer Pathum Egodawatta has a lot of interesting stories to share.

Mooniak is the only type studio in the country, and Akuru is a community of typographers. The impact created by these revolutionary establishments will be revealed in detail during the SLDF sessions.

Umanga Kulasekara ‘Sustainability is style’ It is not easy running your own personal brand whilst working at a notable organisation, especially when you are as young as AOD Alumni Fashion Designer Umanga Kulasekara. Umanga Kulasekara works as corporate swimwear designer for MAS Linea Aqua. She is the proud founder of the hip brand UD K. Her journey is a tale that the reader does not want to miss.

The manner in which she built her brand is quite admirable. The youthful entrepreneur is prepared to share the illuminating story of her iconic brand at SLDF 2021.

Hash Bandara ‘Skating towards a new culture’ Skating is an exhilarating leisurely activity for many thrill-seekers. However, it is rare to find a space where one can enjoy the thrill and freely express themselves at the same time. AOD Alumni Fashion Designer Hash Bandara is set to take the viewer on a journey across her life’s experiences. Utilising visual aids like animations, Hash expects to convey the story of how she created an impact in the skateboard culture as the Co-Founder of PUSH skateboards Sri Lanka. She is also the Co-Founder and CEO of Kings Coconut Design. Her interpretation of impact is deep and meaningful. Stay tuned to SLDF 2021 to get a first-hand recollection of her illuminating tale.

Kasuni Rathnasuriya ‘Revitalizing a dying art’ AOD Alumni Designer Kasuni Rathnasuriya has committed her work towards revitalising a dying craft whilst supporting the artisanal community to move ahead with existing traditions. Her story revolves around her effort to work with a Sri Lankan craft to build a commercially successful product range.

She has presented an appealing video to the London Craft Week, which she intends to reveal during SLDF 2021.

Poornima Meegammana ‘A continuous effort to create an impact’ Alumni/ Lecturer of AOD Poornima Meegammana have a lot to say about how one can create a positive impact. Throughout the years, she has successfully conducted a multitude of projects that have created revolutionary change in the Sri Lankan society. She is set to reveal her contribution during the highly anticipated virtual edition of SLDF 2021.

These individuals consistently attempt to bring glory to the proud nation of Sri Lanka via their exceptional talent and flair. It is only appropriate to take a moment to appreciate and acknowledge their unwavering contribution. Mark the calendar and witness Sri Lanka’s first ever virtual fashion design festival. Indulge in the glorious stories of the best youths that the nation has to offer.

Published on: Sunday Times

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