2021 Jun 21
What if a page of a magazine could decide your entire future?
That is exactly what happened to Ruwanthie Gajadeera – a talented young designer who made waves at Graduate Fashion Week, London, right after her graduation from the Academy of Design (AOD). She became the first runner-up, putting Sri Lanka on the map alongside Italy, as a creative force with tremendous amounts of potential.
Initially studying in the field of architecture, Ruwanthie’s passion stirred when she came across an advertisement of an open day organised by AOD. Unknown to anybody else, she secretly attended the event, setting her dreams of pursuing a fashion career in concrete.
“I declared that if I wasn’t allowed to pursue a degree in fashion, I wouldn’t do anything at all,” laughed Ruwanthie. “My parents didn’t have a choice with what I was going to do and eventually they came on board. However, my relatives stopped talking to me for some time, but now they are all very supportive.”
During her three years at AOD, Ruwanthie discovered that she had a knack for all things sustainable.
“When I was in the first year, I did a denim project where I used jeans donated by my friends and denim off-cuts to create garments, which got really good feedback. I’m quite good at patching things up. So I looked into more avenues in sustainability.”
“My second year of studying exposed me to heritage crafts. We had to pick one, but I chose to study all three. I remember not being able to attend the batik workshop because I had another workshop on the same day. So I watched Shibori tutorials online, and in the end, that’s what I used instead of traditional Sri Lankan Batik. Beeralu and handloom were then tied into the project as well.”
While gaining major inspiration from Sri Lankan culture and artistic history, a study tour to Japan helped Ruwanthie revolutionise her final collection, which eventually earned her first runner up at Graduate Fashion Week.
“I started looking at street style and it was such a great experience being in Japan. We went to Tokyo National Museum and I saw a Japanese Boro, which had been passed down through five generations, making it a highly sustainable piece of clothing. That was my main inspiration.”
However, Ruwanthie’s journey in fashion wasn’t always smooth sailing. The pressure of being a final-year student in university is always a stressful experience. Add COVID-19 to the equation and the amount of challenges multiply.
“One main challenge was COVID-19. It is one of the worst things for a final-year student to face because it is something new and there is paranoia that revolves around the possibility of you catching it. Your resources are limited, your lecturers aren’t as accessible and you have to get used to learning from home.”
“My collection was sponsored by Hirdaramani, which helped me a lot in getting things done. The whole Hirdaramani Discovery Lab was available to me and they allowed me to experiment. It was exciting and challenging at the same time.”
Her go-to stress reliever? Netflix and a tub of ice cream.
“I know that’s really bad, but I think I burnt it off because I was working very hard during the day! But I was excited by the idea of presenting at Graduate Fashion Week. So while I was stressed out, I was also very excited and happy about what I was doing.”
“Showcasing my collection was already enough to make me happy, as it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once I got to know about my achievement, that happiness multiplied by leaps and bounds!”
“AOD helped a huge deal in my achievement. I had no clue about what I was doing, and I didn’t even know whether I was in the right place. Hirdaramani Discovery Lab helped by giving me the full sponsorship. Their Head of Design, Piyumi Perera, was extremely supportive and offered me valuable advice. Linda Speldewinde also made sure that all of my problems were addressed and helped me in creating this collection.”
“My advice for anyone thinking of pursuing a career in fashion? Just go ahead! If you feel like this is what you want to do, I don’t think you will go wrong. Be bold. It is better to try and fail than to not try at all.”