Leveraging on this highly-marketable combination of technology, tradition and young talent, Sri Lanka’s most promising fashion undertaking to date, is about to be launched in Colombo this weekend; fashionmarket.lk – the online destination for designer fashion designed, crafted and created in Sri Lanka now allows the best of local fashion to be available online accessible anywhere in the world.
Behind this venture is Linda Speldewinde – the visionary founder of AOD, Sri Lanka’s pioneering design educator, The Island Craft project and Sri Lanka Design Festival. Speaking to the Daily FT on her new venture and the impact that it will have across several strata of Sri Lankan business, Speldewinde disclosed the vision, objectives and the future of fashionmarket.lk exclusively to the Daily FT.
Following are excerpts:
Q: How did fashionmarket.lk begin?
A: It’s really over a decade of solid work, from setting the ground work to create Sri Lanka’s design talent by first offering international design education in the country and then directing that design talent to industry and the cottage industry, creating ventures such as Sri Lanka Design Festival to push and showcase work and also projects such as Island Craft to engage with the cottage industry in the country.
Having worked in this sector and really played a pivotal role in shaping it to what it is today, I felt the time was right for us to go global and that is really my vision and that’s what I am really working on. We did a soft launch late last year with the product being refined and due to go the global consumer later this year. We need the global market, we need the values and we need the volumes and we need export if we are to make an impact.
My work with the fashion industry here is always working alongside the apparel industry which is one of the best fashion manufacturing industries in the world at our doorstep. I have also not ignored the rest of the country which the cottage industry and the SME sector. I love my country and all of it, so for me it was engaging most of Sri Lanka with what I was doing which is creating the design talent of this country. The idea was to make the young designers who came through the doors of AOD successful as well as the industry who engaged with AOD benefit while the product offering from the country gets taken to a different level with design – this has always been my vision.
While building a global brand which is a more long term job, in the interim there was no reason not to launch a local proposition and that is how fashionmarket.lk was conceptualised.
Q: Why fashion e-commerce?
A: Fashion is a great domain to play in if you’ve got a unique offering and a point of view, which I believe we have out of Sri Lanka. With fashion e-commerce you can reach millions of global customers directly.
Having set up AOD over a decade ago, I have taken a unique journey with fashion and design , fallen in love with it, formed my own point of view, influenced a whole generation of designers in our country and of course through it all been an avid follower of the design and fashion industries globally and the business behind each. Closely association with global authorities like the Future Laboratory, working closely with the UK, I have derived that the future of fashion retail does not lie in traditional brick and mortar stores but in the digital world.
As I mentioned, we have over a decade’s worth of work that we have put in through AOD and Sri Lanka Design Festival, to nurture, educate and develop local fashion and design. Therefore, it became very clear to me that a revolutionary online proposition for all our work is in fact, the way to approach the future. So fashionmarket.lk is the actual commercialisation of all our work, in an innovative, time-appropriate manner; it is a step in between on a parallel path to our main vision of building a global brand.
Q: Why did you decide to have a version for Sri Lanka?
A: Even with the founding of AOD and later in our work, we have always looked to create a New Sri Lankan Style led by us and our work at AOD. An unwritten blueprint for the future guided by a common vision of what we hope to see as our future for Sri Lanka in the area that I was driving. By embracing and controlling our future with this vision, engaging with our heritage crafts, unique apparel industry and providing creative talent over the years, we have now got to this position where we have a following for our vision and this new Sri Lankan style. So with fashionmarket.lk we are taking it commercial and giving an opportunity for others to engage with it and become brand ambassadors of this new style.
The customer we are targeting is intelligent, cares about what they do with their life and role in the world and also they care about what they wear as a result of it. It’s for someone who is real, authentic and unpretentious. We believe there is a big enough segment in Sri Lanka that already loves what we do who will wear this Sri Lankan style locally and also wear it wherever they live internationally. They would proudly wear designed and made in Sri Lanka first for the product as there is no shortcut for getting that right and being on trend etc. but secondly they would wear it for the intelligent and beautiful proposition it holds in making someone look good from within.
Q: What is AOD’s role in all of this?
A: The new Sri Lankan style we are trying to create can’t be stuck in time and be just about Sri Lanka but also a marketable regional and international product. But as we know in order to create a regional style we have to be aware of the world’s products and needs. So, what we are trying to do is develop a design style that is marketable rather than a style that has a fragmented vision; for that you need design. Bringing in expertise from all over the world, we have worked to nurture, teach and develop young design students since the inception of AOD.
Today, AOD has created some of the most remarkable young designers our country has seen; this is evident from them being selected to show at global platforms and catwalks like London Fashion Week IFS in 2013, the graduate fashion week UK in 2014 and 2015 in addition to Austria, Milan, India and so on. So it is this design talent and unique AOD DNA that is at the helm of driving all of this and our graduates will be the people who will define this future through design and do so respectfully, carefully and creatively.
Q: There are many online selling stores – why is fashionmarket.lk seen as a revolutionary venture?
A: The uniqueness of fashionmarket.lk is in two things; the product that it offers and the way it has been created involving the entire fashion sphere of Sri Lanka; it is a combination of the best of our strengths. Fashionmarket.lk begins with fashion talent that is well in par with global talent and our local textile tradition that is absolutely stunning and dates back centuries. This put together with the technologically advanced manufacturing, finishing and packaging that our multi-billion dollar apparel industry possesses, we have a product that is superbly designed, highly valuable with handcrafted luxury textiles and finished with superior technology.
This outcome has been curated by our team of international stylists to put together complete looks for the professional, the casual dresser and the traditional wearer, as seen through the eyes of experts. This remarkable product offering of complete looks and the way it involves the upcoming design entrepreneur, the village artisan and the apparel industry is what makes fashionmarket.lk a truly unique and a truly Sri Lankan initiative.
Q: What are the artisan communities benefitting from this venture?
A: We work with over 600 artisans across the island. From the Dumbara handloom weavers, the textile weavers in Divulapitiya, southern Batik artists to Jaffna palmyrah weavers we have a large community of artisans who are an essential part of our production network. We never treat them like mere production sources, but they are counterparts of the creative process because we really value the centuries old expertise they have possessed from generation to generation.
Their skill is an extremely valuable component in today’s market where handcrafted pieces are a hallmark of luxury and we educate them on this while involving them with our designers to co-create pieces. So they not only get an increased and stable incomes from fashionmarket.lk, but we are able to re-instil the sense of pride and purpose they have in their craft.
Q: Is this direct involvement with consumer fashion a possible future for our apparel industry?
A: Our apparel manufacturing industry is a visionary one and we have seen this with how they have adapted their vision and updated their skill sets to meet the global movements such as commitment to sustainability and growing interest in design. Therefore, they are a remarkable industry that seizes opportunities that benefit their workforce and the country in general.
I think this direct involvement with the fashion consumer is one of the many possibilities that they will embrace in the future along with their strong manufacturing role which they are committed to continue. With this new opportunity I think our apparel industry has identified a great platform for their resident brands like LICC jeans, Aviraté, etc. to grasp a more focused breakthrough into markets and we are honoured to be the platform for them.
Q: What can people expect from fashionmarket.lk?
A: Fashionmarket.lk will lead a movement to establish a new style of dressing that embraces our heritage, our strengths and our future. I think over the years, people can expect to find the inspiration and the products for this new Sri Lankan style at fashionmarket.lk. With our trained stylists what we extend are dignified looks for the professionals, beautiful luxury items for fashion enthusiasts and constantly updated style for the everyday consumer.
So whether you are a professional looking to revolutionise your work outlook, a person wishing to express their identity through what they wear or someone who doesn’t have the time to dedicate to find intelligent fashion choices, fashionmarket.lk will not only be an online store available to you, but also a style consultancy to source looks and opinions on how to dress your professional self, your establishment or your personality.