CFW Retail Week: Darshi Keerthisena De Livera on role of batik

By Naveed Rozais


As part of its month-long programme to reimagine retail experiences for the new normal, CFW Retail Week focused on fashion and wellness last week, hosting Buddhi Batiks Creative Director Darshi Keerthisena De Livera for a look at her view on the role of batik in contemporary design.

Batik is a form of textile dyeing that involves stencilling intricate patterns onto natural fabrics and first applying wax to specific areas before dyeing to create unique textile designs. Batik can be done on any natural fabric. Synthetic fabrics cannot be used for batik because batik uses cold dyes, which can only be absorbed by natural fibres. Synthetic requires hot dyes which will melt the wax used in the batik process.

De Livera spoke on the history of batik, explaining that while the craft is hundreds of years old, it was popularised in the 1950s by Soma Udabage and other renowned designers like Ena De Silva. The craft reached its peak in the 1970s and 1980s with Sri Lankan batik being used to create contemporary pieces for export even then. Buddhi Batiks, founded by De Livera’s father Buddhi Keerthisena, was one of these exporters creating batik bikinis for export to Seychelles.

The batik culture began to decline in the late 1980s through to the 1990s. De Livera shared that this was due to both a lack of demand in the market and a lack of innovation among batik creators. De Livera herself studied fashion design and began to work designing comfortable clothes.

“I didn’t see anything I liked in the market. I don’t like uncomfortable clothes, and I started to introduce silk satins and silk chiffons into the batik market.”

De Livera also places heavy focus on sustainable fashion, being invited to represent Sri Lanka at the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange in 2018, creating a bespoke batik gown made using sustainable algae silk and non-toxic dyes and embellished with sequins made from leather using pineapple waste.

She spoke about the importance Buddhi Batiks places on circularity and value, moving to reduce waste as much as possible and to provide maximum value to customers. Many Buddhi Batik pieces, for instance, can be styled to create two different outfits and all waste fabric is repurposed to create accessories like clutch bags.

Buddhi Batiks also pays attention to minimising environmental impact by purifying waste water before releasing it back to the environment. De Livera also works closely with the artisan communities who make up her workforce, conducting skill-based workshops in marketing and photography with the view of empowering communities to become entrepreneurs.

As an industry moving forward, De Livera explained that it is important to push for standardising raw materials and dyes used in batik, both for the betterment of the product as well as for the safety of those manufacturing batik. De Livera also stressed the importance of collaboration, both between various industries – for example, batik manufacturing industry and hotel industry – as well as between individual designers and brands.

Speaking on the role of batik in contemporary design and fashion, De Lviera shared that it is important to look into our own heritage. “We have 2,500 years of history and we have a unique edge when it comes to fashion, and it is something that we all need to take to heart. Clothes are not going to change the world, but how we make them will.”

Photo Eshan Dasanayaka