If you haven’t read Part 1 of this Article, then what are you doing? Go read! And for the rest of you… welcome back! Some of you may still not be convinced that fashion designing is a realistic career path. Read the stories of Umanga, Davina and Michelle and I’m sure even you skeptics will be convinced:
Umanga Kulasekara She is currently a third year student studying for her BA(Hon) Fashion Design and Textile.
What motivated you to get a fashion design degree?
In the beginning I was a little confused. When I was in school I did moved towards the creative subjects and I was into fashion. I could even sort of picture myself in the field. But after I did my A level’s I had a serious chat with parents. In the end I went to Royal Institute to study Economics. However after about two years I kept thinking “What am I doing here?” “What I really want to do is study fashion!” So I had another talk with my parents and they were really supportive with my decision.
What influences sense of style?
For me clothing is not just a garments, for me it’s a communication tool. I realized throughout my experience in AOD and all the projects that I did, that through every garment I design, I want to send a message about my personal style. As I am currently doing my third year project it has revolved around different cultures. Actually before I came up with my concept I was thinking about economic status of different cultures such as world war hunger, poverty.
As a person, my goal is to show the world, as the new generation that we should inspire and instigate change. I know I can’t personally save the world but I would like to be part of that change through my designs.
Thinking about what inspires me specifically, I would have to say anything to do with tribes and very authentic, ethnic clothing. The African tribes, the Rajasthan Indian tribes, the Native American, they have all inspired me a lot. So what I try to do is, take the key details from these and put them together. I want to show the world that we are all humans.
We are one! We may come from different races and religions but if we come together we can create so many beautiful things. I’m that kind of designer that has to have a meaning behind what I do. If I was to communicate something to the Sri Lankan society through my clothes then it would be that as a multi-cultural country we need to look past ethnic and racial divisions and be as one. What I’m doing with my final year project is something similar to that. A multi-cultural clothing line.
Will Aod help you in any way to achieve your future goals?
Aod has actually already helped me a lot. In our second year we got the opportunity to do internships. Mine was a three month internship at MAS Fabrics. As people such as Karen have a wealth of contacts we gain advantages from that as it ensures we have a quality experience. During my internship I got to know a lot of things. I stepped out of my bubble. I learnt about merchandising and how the designer talks to the patent makers and basically communicating their ideas. After that experience I was sure that if anyone asked me “What field do you want to work in?” I would say as a designer. They have power to come up with concepts and works with the patent makers to make them into reality.
How do stay up to date with fashion industry?
Basically we have the WGSN website which is a key fashion forecast website. You need a personal account but as AOD has an account we use this. We also refer to http://www.vogue.com and other fashion blogs. I personally refer to Brian Boy and Who What Wear. For my third year project I found good books in the AOD library on the Indian and African tribes and how it has evolved. Before we started with the year they asked us to do our first hand research. I kind of got very personal with it and dedicated a lot of my time to the first hand research and how global racial tensions are rising. I selected a few tribes and on each and every selected tribe I did in depth research such as meaning behind the motif, the pattern, the silhouette. For example in African tribes body painting has very intricate meaning behind it. I’m hoping to use that motif for my print collection as well. That’s how I did my research.
Sometimes there is a stigma towards fashion designing degrees and fashion designers in Sri Lanka? What would you say to those critics?
It’s not just about getting a piece of fabric and just stitching it together and simply creating it. Our subject is intense, it is changing all the time. Just to keep in track you need to have a very competitive spirit in you. Plus, you need to have your own kind of vision in order to be successful in this field. Also, when we look at the technical part of it there are so many details which go into constructing a garment. People don’t know about this. A lack of knowledge about this often means that, I wouldn’t say people downgrade fashion designers but they do assume that what we do is easy. They think we just attend fashion shows and stitch and sew.
What is your views on Colombo fashion week?
There are so many international designers particularly Indian designers who come down so that is another exposure to us. We have SLDF, Sri Lankan Design Festival, happening here which AOD organizes. Our graduate collection will be shown at SLDF. In the second year we participated as dressers and this was a great exposure as we learnt that it is very fast paced. It is a three day event. The first day the graduate collection is shown. The second day we have Industry Night which is a collaboration with industries to showcase themselves. There is another day called the sustainable show. This is how to incorporate your craft with notion of sustainability. It’s very exciting!
Davina Fernandes- She is currently a second year student studying for her BA(Hon) Fashion Design and Textile.. She one of AOD’s international students.
You are an international student. What motivated to study fashion designing? Why AOD?
When you are small, you are always trying to explore your creative side. For me that was drawing and designing. I am from India but I chose to come to AOD because my friend recommended it to me. I’m originally from India. I plan to spend my first two years In AOD as the degree is given by the Northumbria University and then in my third year transfer to the University of Northumbria in the UK.
What are the main influences on your personal choice of style? How has your experience at AOD helped you to develop your sense of style?
I used to really love evening gowns and dresses. Yet during the first year of AOD we were exposed to more androgynous and angular designs. I really like the fact we get exposed to so many different types of styles as each style influences you in some small way. I don’t want to restrict myself to one category anymore.
As for who inspires me, definitely Alexander McQueen. His art has real meaning behind it. For example one of his first ever runway shows Highland Rape was really controversial. It was a taboo subject back in the 1990’s and no one had ever thought to spread a message about it through fashion. Alexandar McQueen was actually not talking about rape or women but his own country’s history [Scotland}. But it still is pretty inspiring.
What skills according to you are necessary for a successful fashion designer?
Commitment and dedication. You have to tell yourself again and again that fashion and style must come first.
How do you stay up to date regarding Sri Lankan fashion/International fashion?
Usually I turn to fashion TV. After coming to AOD a lot of us now have access to the WGSN site. This is fashion forecast service where leading brands use to trade and plan their lines. It is constantly being updated so we also have to stay updated too. We also are sent links to sites such as vogue.com. I also like looking through fashion blogs.
Could you share any memorable experiences you have had with fashion designers/ at runway shows/ in the classroom?
The Mercedes Benz fashion show was great. We were dressers backstage and we got to learn about teamwork and all the details which go into a runaway show. Usually people think that events such as Colombo fashion week is the height of fashion in Sri Lanka. It is an important part of it; but it is only a week. Fashion is seasonal and it’s always changing. There is so much planning and prep which goes into events such as the Mercedes Benz Fashion Show and that I learnt when I was a dresser.
In which area of design do you wish to work? What are you career plans after AOD?
I always liked the idea of creative director. I would probably have to start as a junior designer.
As AOD offers a Northumbria degree, in what ways do you feel education at AOD in Sri Lanka has helped you?
The heritage and craft project was really good. Other foreign countries do not have batik handlooms and some handloom crafts I probably wouldn’t have been able to learn if I didn’t come to Sri Lanka. You could consider it an extra thing which other universities may not have
What do you think about Colombo street fashion?
A lot of people seem to think that money = better fashion. There is plenty of wearable fashion for affordable prices if you are creative.
I saved the best interview for last:
Michelle Jayathunge- She is a graduate who got her BA(Hon) Fashion Design and Textile from University of Northumbria at AOD.
Let’s start with the easiest question- Why did you decide to do fashion designing at AOD?
MJ : As a person I want to be a jack of all trades. My sister was already studying to be a graphic designer at AOD. There was an intake for the fashion design degree within AOD. I didn’t have a fashion background but a corporate one and wasn’t sure at first whether I would be able to function at AOD. But I had the passion for it and after interacting with the incredible lecturers I began to feel much more at ease with my decision. You know how they say “Those who cannot do teach?” Well that is simply not true here. Karen and the other lecturers are still very much involved in the field. Sometimes they bring their own fashion archives and it’s such an inspiration to see. You realize that you are not just being taught a very superficial level of fashion but the rich history behind it.
Any special lesson you learnt at AOD which has not just shaped you as a designer but as a person.
MJ: Oh yes! One time during our first year, we were making vesak lanterns. We were supposed to put a pin through the paper lantern. From the outset I kept saying “We can’t do this. The paper is going to tear for sure!” Karen came right up to me, looked me in the eye and said “Don’t ever say no. You cannot say no if you never even tried! If you don’t think it is possible, well then it is up to you to come up with an alternative solution. But just saying no doesn’t help you in any way.”
I still remember that experience to this very day.
Any manner that AOD has helped you with your current career?
During our time at AOD we had to do an internship. I wanted a different experience so I worked as a fashion merchandiser. Aod helped me with Brandix. I went for an interview and it just turned out that the team which I was working as an intern was short of a product merchandiser and I got this amazing opportunity. I had an incredible boss and was thrown into the work and I certainly was not just sitting at a desk. I worked with the pattern cutters, the designers, in the store room and so many other places. So you could say I got the full experience. I met the Calvin Klein team and the H & M team.
How do feel that AOD has contributed to fashion education in Sri Lanka?
People think we just learn how to draw but this is not true. AOD exposes us to different sides of fashion. You have to have complete knowledge about the garment because we make it ourselves! This means knowing the different technical applications used to make the design, pattern making, knowing how to work at photo shoots with the models and so on. You have to be able to communicate the purpose and meaning behind your collection through the garment itself and this is really tricky to do.
What was your most favourite experience at AOD?
I was a finalist as an emerging designer at the Mercedes Benz fashion show. It was such amazing experience because you feel so professional when you are asked questions about the garment like what was the purpose behind. AOD gives you the confidence to answer these questions not just about your own collection, but about what else is going around you. You are not just there as am impartial observer, you are an active participant.
What influences your personal sense of style?
When first came to AOD, Ralph Lauren was a big inspiration. What AOD did for me was, they allowed me to stay true to the fact I had a clean, simple style. At the same time, they exposed me to so many other styles. I’m able to look at designers such as Vivienne Westwood who is considered quite radical even in the fashion world and still gain influence and inspiration from their work. I did a whole menswear collection based on that but I also used some Sri Lankan influences as well!
What is people’s reaction when you tell people that you studied fashion designing at AOD?
A lot of people say “Wow that’s really cool”. But they don’t understand it. They will ask what you can do with that. They kind of put you in boxes. They say “Oh, your job is really easy.” People outside the fashion world don’t really have an accurate view of what a fashion designer is. There is a global stigma attached towards fashion designers. It’s a bit better in the western world but they usually reserve respect for fashion designers at the top of their craft like Vera Wang.
What is your response to these people?
Well I don’t waste my time arguing with them. But if I had to, then my argument would be if you haven’t tried to do what I do, then how can you judge me for it? How would you know the effort, talent and dedication which goes into it? Furthermore unlike professions such as maybe a lawyer people are not going to immediately respect you or support what you’re doing. You have to be thick skinned to the comments people will throw at you. You have to be confident and self-assured and really know what you’re doing.
Do you have any parting advice to give those interested in pursuing a fashion related degree?
It’s very competitive; you have to be able to strike a balance between taking competition and motivation. You can’t take failure or competition in a bad way. Instead you must think to yourself “I need to step up my game!” or “I need to do better”. But it is a rewarding profession if you work for it.
Authors Note: As you can see from the interviews Fashion Designing is not what many people perceive it in their head. I spent the entire day interviewing, photographing (and generally being a clumsy intruder) on these designers. I can honestly tell you these girls (and guys!) literally worked relentlessly from early morning until evening on their work.
I kept thinking to myself “My God, they really are married to it”. But it is not a loveless, soulless marriage. Oh no! They work with dedication and diligence and with passion and promise. They have this fire and drive because they whole heartedly, against the odds believe in their dreams.
Someone once told me “Creativity is not a competition.” But in an industry like this, creativity is their bread and the technical skills they learn at AOD are their butter. And I’m quite sure, some of these students will probably play a part in shaping Sri Lanka’s fashion industry in the next few decades to come!
At first this post was to be dedicated to my fantastic best friend Anuththara. (Yes the same one I interviewed) But after spending the day at AOD I would like to dedicate this post to all the fashion designers currently studying at AOD. I know it’s tough. I know there are days you must be wondering what the future will hold… or even what the next semester will be like.
But don’t give up or give in to those insecurities! I personally know so many people who don’t want to study law, they don’t want to study management. They want to be where you are right now, but either were not brave enough to pursue it or never even got the opportunity to. Bill Cunningham said “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life”. Well you are the warriors who get to design the armour for the rest of us. We have faith in you.