We have very talented fashion designers waiting to be discovered: Dinesh Chandrasena

Sri Lankan designers should innovate more to make their designs cater to global audiences


Raffles Colombo, a unique education provider in Sri Lanka specialising in art and design, celebrated its 3rd anniversary of operations in Sri Lanka recently. Raffles Colombo, which is registered in Sri Lanka as Raffles Design Institute Ltd., is the local arm of Raffles Education Corporation Ltd., a reputable education provider listed on the Main Board of the Stock Exchange of Singapore. Raffles Education Corporation Limited is the largest private education group in Asia-Pacific. Raffles Education Corporation operates 33 colleges in 30 cities across 11 countries.

Following are excerpts of an interview with internationally renowned Sri Lankan fashion designer Dinesh Chandrasena who is one of the many top lecturers at Raffles Colombo :

Q: Would you be able to tell us how about your background in fashion designing?

A: Back in the year 1989, I participated in the ‘Designer of the year’ organised by the Lions Club of Cinnamon Gardens after my mother pushed me to do so. At that time we had an internal conflict in the island and as a result all the schools were closed down. Since I was very good at drawing, I took part in the competition and ended up becoming the 1st runner-up. Being just 17 years old, I was the youngest participant in the competition. This helped me to find my niche and I went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles where I majored in fashion design and minored in psychology. It was a three-year program. I graduated in 1996 and was one of only 10 students chosen from a grad cohort of 2,000 students to go in to the advance study program.


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After that, I joined Calvin Klein as an intern based in New York. Once I returned to Los Angeles I was hired by Claire’s Collection. From the very beginning, for a period of 17 years, I was at Claire’s Collection as their Principal Designer. I was the only designer in the company at the time. This was a huge amount of pressure at the beginning because you are just out of College and you realise that a whole company’s income is based on your designs selling. I used to design for our shows in New York and we also used to do shows in Dallas and Atlanta.


we have 2 Q: What are your views on the Sri Lankan fashion industry?

A: I believe each one of us should do our part in this effort but making it more viable and bringing the spotlight on to Sri Lanka would involve more exposure and publicity in the international press. In addition, more Sri Lankan designers should think outside the box to make the designs cater to global audiences.

Q: What makes Raffles different other institutes offering similar courses?

A: In my personal opinion, I see Raffles as a premier institute. Why I say this is not only because I lecture there but based on my years of exposure to international fashion. As I mentioned earlier, I went to an international college in Los Angeles. There, I encountered international standards, and therefore I know what the standards should be and the level of facilities that should be offered to a student. I am happy to see that Raffles offers all of that for the students in Sri Lanka. To be frank, I am not in a position to talk about other colleges since I am not knowledgeable, but I can confidently say that Raffles is a fantastic choice for students in Sri Lanka who want to pursue a serious career in program such as fashion design, marketing or visual. This is because not only is Raffles one of the best multi-campuses throughout Asia, but if you look at info such as the number of campuses, the number of graduates, the number of lecturers and the network offered to Raffles students and graduates, it is up there with the best. If you are a Raffles grad who knows me, once you put out the word regarding your projects or jobs, obviously I would try to also spread the word about you through my network of contacts. This goes for all the multinational Raffles staff, and their multi-campuses. This widely-spread network is a massive plus in this industry, because jobs do not fall out of the sky. You have to be very good at your job to sustain it and a top-class education is the key.

Q: How do you see the Sri Lankan fashion industry performing in the future?

A: As we plan for the future, we need to focus on nurturing our brand. The fact is that we have very talented Sri Lankan designers just waiting to be discovered. They only need the right platform and opportunities. You get wonderful events such as ‘Pret’ and ‘CFW’ which bring in international designers and showcase Sri Lankan design talent to the world. The Indian based entertainment giant Wizcraft is partnered with my friend Kushani Nanayakkara Gankanda, and has taken many local design talents to international fashion events. All this helps to take the industry forward. Several large, multi-cultural apparel factories now have their own private labels which are their own designer brands. I strongly believe that these brands need to be taken even further and showcased at international fashion symposiums. We should show the world that Sri Lanka is not just about cut and sew garments, but that we actually have the design talent to develop a garment from scratch. Nowadays, what happens is that the designs are sent to us from overseas and the product development is done here in Sri Lanka. We need to focus on making an impact internationally, bringing the spotlight to Sri Lanka and especially on to the design talent.

Q: Any words of advice to students aspiring to enter this field?

A: For students aspiring to enter the world of fashion design, the best advice is to get the best education possible. This would give them a strong foundation from which they can build their careers. Institutes such as Raffles Design Institute in Colombo offer the best international education right here in Sri Lanka. So, they should take advantage of this, utilise the facilities well and embark on their journey into the world of fashion design.