Ethical fashion to the fore!

House of Lonali makes an eco-friendly, on-trend statement with recycled and up-cycled line


By Sarah Hannan


Lonali Rodrigo is an upcoming fashion designer and entrepreneur, nurtured by a family of fashion and business forward ladies.


Her grandmother Tulin Kulasinghe is a lady who actively supported the women’s associations during 1950-1970 to empower the traditional handloom, batik and embroidery industry and imported cheese cloth for them while her aunt Charmaine Hemachandra too was a designer from whom she drew inspiration and learned the ropes of designing.


2013-11-12 1The beginning


The proud owner of her own label ‘l o n a l i,’ Lonali started to get the hang of fashion at an early stage.


Speaking to the Weekend FT Lonali said: “I was naturally inclined towards supporting the artisans of our country as my grandmother was actively involved in the association for women. Soon after my Ordinary Level exams my mother encouraged me to expand my knowledge by assisting my aunt with her work. This was an inspiring time as I learnt how to cut patterns and paint on different fabrics and picked up on other minute details needed to complete a piece. While sitting for my Advanced Level exams I used to work with her whenever I had free time and soon after finishing my secondary education I wanted to learn more about the industry. I followed a course in ‘Garment Industry Management’ and then interned at Hirdramani Group where I gained overall knowledge that involved from designing, production, supply chain and other administrative aspects.”


Lonali also had the privilege to work for the art department in one of Sumithra Pieris’ film sets and gained knowledge about art direction and working in a film set. “It was a different learning experience from what I had seen so far,” she stated.


After enrolling at Academy of Design (AOD); to read for her degree in Fashion, Lonali started to look at the fashion industry from a more modern angle. “AOD changed the image that I had about the fashion and apparel industry. I learned the whole process from design, manufacturing and how the industry works with their world-renowned brands.”


Bridging gaps


As an individual who has seen the fashion and apparel industry from different angles and expanded her knowledge by selecting the best suited field of study, Lonali recognised a gap between the apparel and fashion industry.


“My experience as an assistant to my aunt who has her own fashion enterprise, my time as an intern at a leading apparel institute and the knowledge I gained from AOD enabled me to identify an area on which Sri Lanka had never focused. At the time I conceived the concept of recycling the surplus/waste raw material and turning them into a fashion statement, no one in Sri Lanka had implemented an ethical brand,” said Lonali, adding that most of the time the waste material is discarded in eco friendly methods but there is so much waste that is unseen by many.


2013-11-12 2“It is known that most of the time we recycle waste material in our own ways through patchwork and other handicrafts, but what we need to know is that there is a whole new market out there which is looking at ethical and sustainable fashion. While we build a brand, we need to keep the traditional crafts like handloom, batik, beeralu lace and other knitting work intact,” Lonali explained.


Story behind the brand


According to Lonali, each of her creations have a different story to tell, from the material that is used to the person who assisted her to incorporate the traditional touch to add value to the clothing or accessories that are sent to the market.


When asked about her target market, Lonali responded that she wants to reach everyone who is interested in her fashion line.


“My first attempt to reach the local customer was through Melache, a fashion store which caters to a high-end clientele. I am also looking at approaching teenagers by designing notebooks, shoes, hats and bags. As I said, each of these pieces will carry a tag with their unique story and how it came to life. I wish to educate my customers so that they will have a wider understanding about how ethical and sustainable the brand is.”


These days, everyone is switching to designer wear and Lonali aims to introduce recycled and up-cycled fashion to the market. “Most of the time if something is made out of waste material it does not attract a bigger customer base and the only people who would purchase it would be the environmentally conscious shopper or a person who is aware of up-cycled fashion. Most of my designs are designed in a marketable and attractive manner so any person would want to purchase it. Here is where the brand awareness and the story would come into play.”


Sustainable and exclusive fashion


House of Lonali incorporates different demographics when it comes to age, social status and the locality of each artisan, crafter or seamstress. In the years to come Lonali will make all these people a part of her team and provide them the opportunity to showcase their talents through her label.


“I work with different age groups and these individuals come from different parts of the island and are talented in various traditional crafting methods. One is good in patchwork, another in beeralu lace craft and yet another in handloom. These people have their own established businesses, work full time and provide their assistance during their free time and then some of them are housewives,” said Loali, describing her team.


While her brand is about sustainable fashion, it is also exclusive fashion. Lonali works with raw material that is provided to her from different factories and it is a challenge for her to produce the same style in bulk quantities as she is limited with the type of material that can be used and at times she has to alter the design or improvise with the limited material that is at hand.


“The biggest challenge that I see with the type of work I do is access to the raw material. Most of the time I do not get the type of material that I have in mind and there are times I have to change my designs to match the amount of raw material I can utilise. Most of my creations are one-of-a-kind and each one has its own story to tell. Most importantly I am trying to change the mindset of my customer through this and spread awareness about ethical fashion. The times are in favour as everyone is becoming environmentally conscious and everyone is interested in organic products,” Lonali reiterated.


Wrapping up the interview Lonali thanked her parents for encouraging her to follow her dream and for pushing her to be mentored from her aunt and allowing her to study fashion afterwards.


“My parents and my husband are my biggest critics, they would be honest about how they see my creations and provide constructive feedback and encourage and support me at all times. I am also thankful to AOD for providing me an office/studio space at their ‘Centre for Creative Entrepreneurs’ where from the Fashion Department Nithya Lamahewa and I were allotted. Last but not least Linda Speldenwinde and Karen McLeod for all the support and constant mentoring through the years to shape me into who I am.”