Get That Life: How I Founded The Colombo Design Market - Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka
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Get That Life: How I Founded The Colombo Design Market

"Don’t overthink it—just take the first step!"

Image courtesy subject

Alifiya Mutaher (25) is a mechanical engineering graduate who returned home from university armed with an idea of how she could make a contribution towards the (growing) artistic community. She is now the founder of Sri Lanka’s first makers market that attracts as many as 2,000+ people. Hosted at a fresh location with each installment, the CDM aims at providing a space for the nurturing and cultivation of local talent. Here, Alifiya talks about how she wants to shape the creative industry by hosting carefully curated events that create a platform for emerging artists and innovators to connect and showcase their products.


On how it all began

I graduated from the Monash University (Malaysian campus) and upon my return to Sri Lanka, I started working at a leading corporate in the innovations department. I thoroughly enjoyed my work and have no regrets but my job was starting to take up most of my time. That is when I realized that I wanted to expand my horizons beyond my 9-5, and dedicate some time towards a passion project I had in mind.

From my time at university in Malaysia and during my semester abroad in Melbourne, I always enjoyed visiting market festivals on the weekends. There was a strong design and style element within them that I had never really experienced elsewhere, especially in Sri Lanka. That is when it really clicked—I wanted to bring something similar to our little island. We have so much unrecognised talent here and we were lacking places in which that talent could be fostered. That is where it started, that was our vision—to build a creative community space in market form.

I started discussing the idea with my sister and she immediately understood my vision. We work well together as a team—in terms of ideas and in our sense of direction. We both knew where we wanted to take this venture. So we started pitching the idea to a few friends who we thought would be interested and then it just all came together. We suddenly had a team of people who realised the gap in the market for creative events and who wanted to be the first few to bring it to Colombo.

None of us knew what we were really getting into and what it would take to execute an event of this nature but we learned on the job and it’s worked out well.


On the CDM

The Market itself goes beyond the buy/sell rhetoric of a standard market. Vendors are key and maximizing their sales is the goal for the day, but it is also about attracting creatives and artisans to the space to be inspired by local creativity through interactive installations and experiences.

We also encourage local filmmakers and photographers to showcase their work in our gallery space.


Photography by @Colombosensei

A photo posted by Colombo Design Market (@colombodesignmarket) on

Additionally, music is very important to the vibe of the Market and this is a segment that has continued to develop promisingly.

All elements are collectively curated to present a collaborative space that encourages individuals to engage and be present.


Sandbox art ?

A photo posted by Colombo Design Market (@colombodesignmarket) on


On obstacles faced

The hurdles that we faced were primarily logistical. Since the market is hosted at a different location each installment, scouting a suitable venue on every occasion has been tough. We have managed to secure some really interesting spaces in the past—the Viharamahadevi Amphitheatre, the Pettah Floating Market and the CMB Jazz and Blues Festival at the Galle Face Hotel etc.



Floating lights ? a big thank you to everyone who came and supported the Design Market. We’ll see you beautiful folks soon ???

A photo posted by Colombo Design Market (@colombodesignmarket) on

Our next challenge was figuring out the technical details like electricity supply, optimizing structural aspects of the installations, and navigating the arrangement of stalls. All this needed to be done in-house due to budget restrictions. So it required a lot of having to learn on the go!

Everything else ran quite smoothly, especially sourcing local talent. All it took was some online research via social media – which is usually the best place to look for local artisans nowadays – and word of mouth. Once the initial market was off the ground, recommendations started circulating around town and we had people approaching us.


On how she thinks the CDM will help the artistic community in SL

We’ve had people launch their brand at the Market and have since watched them grow and really establish themselves.

The Market also provides for the perfect networking environment between like-minded individuals. We have borne witness to the start of much collaboration and partnership. The Market has been used as a source of finding people, products and even work. Unfortunately, we have not been able to follow up on these success stories but we hear about them all the time, and it really is a great feeling because it reinforces the value that the market brings to people.




A photo posted by Colombo Design Market (@colombodesignmarket) on

Advice from Alifiya

Put yourself out there and you will start growing. You can find a million reasons to hold back but everything is a learning curve. Don’t overthink it—just take the first step!

What do you think ?

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