HSBC CFW 2020: A mid-pandemic fashion week

HSBC Colombo Fashion Week (CFW) held its 2020 season last week in its usual spectacular fashion. The CFW 2020 season was initially scheduled to take place from 18-21 March and was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the risk of large gatherings, and the nationwide lockdown which was put in place on 20 March.

Taking place on 13, 14, and 15 August, the long-awaited 2020 season took to the ramp over three curated nights, showcasing the best of Sri Lankan fashion.

The first two nights of CFW were held at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo with the finale event taking place at the Hilton Colombo.

CFW 2020 was the first fashion week of its kind to take place globally following the pandemic hitting us earlier this year, with the CFW team going above and beyond to implement health and safety guidelines for the protection of its guests.

Day 1 of CFW, which took place at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo, showcased Sri Lankan design’s newest fashion talent featuring brands from emerging designers and painted a picture of the future of Sri Lanka’s fashion landscape.

Day 2 of CFW, also at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo, shone a light on some of Sri Lanka’s favourite established designers, opening with the latest collection by Aslam Hussein and closing with Dimuthu Sahabandu, whose brand has grown with CFW, developing from a young, emerging brand to the established Sri Lankan designer brand it is today.

The finale evening at the Hilton Colombo showcased some of Sri Lanka’s most beloved designer brands with the likes of Indi, Jai by Aashkii, and Meraki showing their latest. The season closed with the unveiling of the latest collection of designer Charini Suriyage’s eponymous label Charini.

Driving a fashion week amidst a pandemic

The Sunday Morning Brunch caught up with CFW Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Fazeena Rajabdeen to learn more about how CFW had adapted as an event in the wake of the pandemic.

CFW CEO Fazeena Rajabadeen

CFW 2020 relied solely on local talent across all forms of design and production, from designers to models to show production. “Colombo Fashion Week has always operated with the goal of encouraging and highlighting local talent,” Rajabadeen shared, speaking on the power of local talent. “We have used foreign talent in the past only where local talent was lacking, and this year, I am happy to say we have reached the stage where our local talent has been able to fill all gaps.”

CFW Founder and Managing Director Ajai Vir Singh

CFW Founder and Managing Director (MD) Ajai Vir Singh shared that driving CFW amidst a pandemic was a very interesting journey. He explained: “Because the environment was changing, the mindset and behaviour of society was changing. Of course, this change brought its own challenges with it. We had to be innovative and come up with a presentation of fashion that would be accepted and relevant to the new environment. To do this, we briefed designers on the new mindset and they worked on new ways to present their collections in a ‘new normal’ of fashion within this new normal environment.

“As you know, the pandemic changed circumstances completely so it required new thinking. Of course, we also adhered to all health and safety protocols, including a very small number of guests presented in an interesting way, wearing masks, temperature checks, social distancing, and so on.”

Speaking on the production end of CFW, Rajabdeen explained that CFW has always had a strong local team who worked closely with CFW’s international production partner to make CFW the success it is.

CFW 2020 featured the collections of the local designers who were to showcase during CFW’s initially planned run in March. Rajabdeen shared that the designers have taken the extra time to improve and enhance their collections for the showcase.

Linking performance art and fashion together

CFW 2020 also illustrated how fashion and art go hand in hand. Singh shared that this move to combine these different forms of art and creativity was led in part by the need to create a more engaging format of presentation that appealed both online and offline.

“One of the key challenges was to create a unique format of presenting fashion which is attractive to both online and offline audiences while maintaining the quality of CFW productions,” Singh added. “For this, we had to create interesting collaborations with music, dance, and the literary scene of Sri Lanka which was a global first, where a celebrated Sri Lankan author (Ashok Ferrey) did a reading while fashion was being presented. This was a unique event where creative collaborations are showcased and appreciated by the audience.”

The Day 2 showcase opened with designer Aslam Hussein’s collection going down the runway to the reading of an excerpt from Ashok Ferrey’s latest book The Unmarriageable Man, read by Ashok Ferrey himself.

FH by Fouzul Hameed and Dimuthu Sahabandu both took to the ramp with performances from Natanda Dance Theatre, and renowned soprano Kishani Jayasinghe performed for the unveiling of Vogue Jewellers’ latest collection of stunning fine jewellery.

Other performances included a rendition of Adele’s iconic hit Skyfall by aspiring actress, musician, model, and journalist Q (aka. Francesca Mudannayake), and performances by Sandarangi Perera of Vibe Dance Academy and beatboxer and rapper Julius Mitchell.

Responsibility in fashion, the Responsible Metre

CFW 2020 takes unprecedented steps to create responsibility in fashion with regards to sustainability, introducing the Responsible Metre, a sustainable audit where each garment presented at CFW will be given a Responsible score. The Responsible Metre was developed in association with the Responsible Fashion Movement (RFM).

The Responsible Metre aims to drive sustainable change in the global fashion industry. The audit system is a result of progressive feedback, research, and professional input from the design fraternity and has now been formalised with 14 high-profile designers. Together with CFW and RFM, these 14 designers are the first group that is pioneering this new direction, taking the lead in transforming how the global fashion industry operates, encouraging designers to think about how they can transition towards designing for a more sustainable future, with both environmental and social impacts in mind.

The future CFW schedule

With CFW 2020 out of the way, Rajabdeen explained that the CFW team would assess the environment carefully before adjusting their schedule for the year going forward, if needed.

Looking to the future, Singh shared: “We believe the future of CFW is bright and is an evolved platform in line with the new needs of the fashion industry and the new consumption patterns of society. In a nutshell, CFW remains a development platform with an evolved look and relevant solutions.”


Designer and audience comments

“It was my first time at Colombo Fashion Week; I attended Day 1 and Day 3. I was super excited to attend and it’s everything I thought it would be”

Chaagi Jayasekera



“The CFW experience this year has been great. It’s good to see that talent is being showcased after everything that’s happened and with almost all industries failing. That CFW is going on without stopping is a great lesson in resilience.”

Ushan Gunasekera



“It was great being part of CFW; I built in a reading of Ashok Ferrey to my showcase because I wanted to do something really different, especially since this is the first post-Covid-19 runway happening. I wanted to show the world where we stand. The process of getting things done this time around was a little different and challenging because we needed to follow restrictions carefully, but we made it happen.”

Designer Aslam Hussein

Here are some highlights from all three days

Ayesh Wickramaratne | Day 1

Inspired by the cultural melting pot of the hit film Black Panther, the collection was draping and ruching, and consisted reversible elements mixed with sustainable print and washing techniques to create a collection built on the trust of sustainability.


Divya Jayawickrema | Day 1

Inspired by World War II, this collection incorporated sustainable zero-waste methods, reversible design and natural yarn, and minimal water use to create a sustainable, luxe collection.


Joanne Kulamannage | Day 1

Playing with denim, this high-street, contemporary street-style collection revolved around a carefree, adventurous personality, featuring studded leather jackets, ripped jeans, bodycon dresses, and reimagined workwear overalls.


Ranga Seneviratne | Day 1

A print-based collection that featured simplified silhouettes mixed with graphic hand-illustrated print; Ranga was inspired by how art whispers to the very intuition of the perceiver, letting the intuition of a person guide them in style and connect with the spirit of urban youth.


Udarika Dalugama | Day 1

Inspired by the human “body and soul”, this mostly gender-neutral collection with an old-school aesthetic experiments with cuts, shapes, and garment volume, creating beautifully unique pieces of living art.


Aslam Hussein | Day 2

Inspired by the vibrant colours of the Holi festival, the collection is a celebration of colour, featuring natural dye techniques and repurposed and restyled pieces from previous collections. The collection was designed to be zero-waste in terms of fabric usage.


Lovi Ceylon | Day 2

Lovi’s 2020 collection is an unapologetic celebration of a prosperous Sri Lankan future. This clothing is made for modern royalty, the proudly cosmopolitan Sri Lankan.


Dimuthu Sahabandu | Day 2

Inspired by Kuveni and the ancient aboriginal tribes of Sri Lanka, the collection tells the story of the tribal queen and her encounter with Prince Vijaya from India. The collection features hand-embellished eveningwear focusing on the brand’s signature fabric manipulations and textile designs.


Amilani Perera | Day 3

In partnership with the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) Sri Lanka, the collection uplifts and empowers women who have faced domestic violence in Sri Lanka. The collection is a display of intense emotions brought to life through a meaningful colour palette. The deep burgundy represents fear and abuse, contrasted by the mint greens and shades of blush representing the healing process.


Limak | Day 3

The collection showcases what purity should be and could be if the destruction of the environment is taken seriously and it’s brought back to its former splendour. The collection features structured silhouettes and tailoring.


Charini | Day 3

Designed and manufactured with responsibility in fashion in mind, the collection is inspired by traditional Sri Lankan floral motifs, and uses batik craft, timeless versatile design, and feminine organic lines, contrasting with strong body contours.

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PHOTOS Saman Aberisirwardana, Pradeep Dambarage and Eshan Dasanayaka