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Sharing Sri Lankan heritage through design: Ruwanthi Gajadeera

2 years ago

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[caption id="attachment_144490" align="alignright" width="250"] Ruwanthi Gajadeera[/caption] Ruwanthi Gajadeera, a highly enthusiastic fashion designer studying at Academy of Design (AOD), Colombo, with a passion for perfecting heritage crafts to produce innovative and timeless textiles and garments, was recently awarded first runner up at the Graduate Fashionweek International Catwalk hosted by the Graduate Fashion Foundation. Brunch caught up with her for an exclusive on her experience, dreams for the future, and more. Gajadeera has brought pride and honour to both her country and her school and has put both on the map for the talents she has fine-tuned over the years. Having been awarded valedictorian of the class of 2020 at AOD, she was presented with the opportunity to participate in this competition.  We asked her how she felt about winning a competition of such a prestigious nature. “Winning was an amazing feeling. I was overjoyed because when I was studying at AOD, my dream was to showcase Sri Lankan heritage internationally, and this show made it possible.” She also shared a little insight on her experience with the showcase, saying: “It was a really great experience, and my whole collection was sponsored by Hirdaramani Discovery Labs. The Head of Design at Hirdaramani Discovery Labs helped and guided me through the whole process. Since this competition took place during the pandemic, it was difficult to work, but AOD was incredibly supportive and understanding. (AOD Founder) Linda (Speldewinde) spoke to me personally and encouraged me to see this competition through.” Having won this competition, Gajadeera is now a representation of a new design movement that AOD is building around the topic of what Sri Lanka can offer to the world in terms of the fashion industry. We asked Gajadeera what message she would like to share with everyone that is following AOD and their vision. “Behind every door and window you knock on, there is an opportunity waiting for you. As designers of Sri Lanka, there are so many other avenues that need to be explored and we need to think of design as a totally new field and go into it. AOD really helps you recognise and awaken the designer spirit in you. So go for it, be bold, and let your spirit shine.”  Speaking about her designs, Gajadeera informed us that her vision has been about exploring sustainable fashion avenues and practices since the very beginning of her degree. She wants to incorporate her Sri Lankan heritage and sustainable methods of ancient Sri Lankan culture to support slow fashion and to produce eco-friendly garments. “Through my designs, I communicate the importance of timelessness and slow movement. I attempt to demonstrate how a timeless garment could truly explore its life story and depth of design,” she commented, adding that as designers, they have so much power and responsibility to change the world by producing such timeless pieces. We asked Gajadeera about the collection she showcased at the competition. By the name “Kaeli” (pieces), her collection was designed to bring pieces of waste fabrics together to create innovative textiles by incorporating diminishing heritage craftsmanship.  Gajadeera told us that she designs under the ethe of four concepts: low-impact, low-waste, longevity, and recyclability, so the main inspiration behind her concept attempts to combine environmental and social aspects to create impactful garments that will benefit the wearer by providing a durable and quality product; the producers by empowering the marginalised artisans; and most importantly Mother Earth by designing responsibly. “In terms of design, my garments pass on an ethos of timelessness by embracing a combination of low-tech, high-tech techniques that express the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle) in the complete garment lifecycle,” she stated, adding that in all her previous collections too, she used zero-waste, upcycling, reconstruction techniques that produce a low-waste garment and display the interrelations of these different methods in a cohesive manner. Her current collection, Kaeli would not have been possible if not for her experience at AOD where she created two collections for her first and second year. For her first year, she collected pre-loved denim that she was able to upcycle by deconstructing them in a fashion that allowed her to embody them into her collection, which is where the patchwork aspect behind Kaeli came from.  For her second year, her collection used low-impact materials such as unbleached raw cotton, biodegradable buttons, and fasteners made using regenerated cellulose; employing hand-woven handloom, crochet, and bobbin lace that do not consume any fossil fuels in terms of production. She added that as sustainability is a big part of AOD’s values, this helped her further grow and develop her brand into a more ethical product. Her second collection also used natural dyeing techniques using native plants that produce original colour dyes without releasing harmful chemicals to the planet. Moreover, wastewater from the dyeing process can be safely repurposed to water plants, which again can be seen in her latest winning collection. She also mentioned that she resides in Ampara, so the area where she lives is surrounded by a myriad of trees. “My father loves trees and in his free time, all he does is plant them, so I took his knowledge about trees and learned more about natural dyes, and eventually inculcated it into my work.” For her final year at AOD, she went on a trip to Japan where she laid her eyes on the “boro kimono”, which was passed down five generations. “This piece of patchwork garment is more than 500 years old and it really touched my heart. It is also a very sustainable garment, so I was inspired by this for my final collection.” Her last collection did indeed shine with Japanese aspects, which she has now made a signature part of her work as well. “My final collection was about who I am and my story behind self-discovery.”  Gajadeera has plans to start her own textile-based brand in the future. She told us that when she was working with textiles, she realised how much potential it holds. “In Sri Lanka, even though we have many talented artisans here, we neglect to do anything interesting with textiles. This is when I decided to go into textile development and connect it with innovation and come up with novel textiles that one can actually wear, instead of having it on a cushion cover or bedsheet.” Her brand will be focused on modern wear for the younger generation and will be more innovative and technology-driven textiles. She is currently researching how to incorporate technology into the art of handloom. Her degree at AOD – MA in Design Innovation – has helped her understand the concepts of technology and how it can be used to create innovative and unique pieces with aspects of clothing that have so much raw potential but have never been done before. Gajadeera undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of her. 

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