The questions surrounding climate crisis has made it difficult to start a fashion brand, but Lonali Rodrigo, the Founder and Lead Designer of House of Lonali, has figured it all out. Ever since she was little she knew what she wanted, and as she got older and asked questions around waste she knew she could no longer sit by and watch. 8 years ago, she turned her passion into a business that utilizes unwanted textiles (that would otherwise end up as landfill) to create original pieces of clothes and lifestyle products. She works with cottage industries to handmake these pieces, delivering income to these local artisans. Her journey hasn’t been easy, but she’s established some ground rules on starting a sustainable business.
Learn to turn a negative into a positive
Back then as a kid, I used to do upcycling without even knowing what the word ‘upcycling’ was. Then, in college, I got to know the real story behind making a garment, and it wasn’t as beautiful as the clothing was. That’s when I started asking questions on the value of the waste and turned upcycling into a business called, House of Lonali. We started with womenswear, and now we’ve grown to an extent, where we retail stationery, menswear, and kidswear.
Be brave enough to start something new
Starting a sustainable business in Sri Lanka was in itself a groundbreaking achievement. The country a pioneer in the apparel manufacturing industry, but when it comes to trends and style, we’re far behind in comparison to the fashion capitals of the world. Therefore, selling unique and on-trend clothes in the local market has always been difficult. Our endearing courage to fight every challenge that comes up is one reason that has made us thrive in the industry for about 7 years now.
Your business can sell contemporary fashion without being unethical
As long as the production of a piece of clothing doesn’t bring any adverse effects to the climate or the welfare of the people, there’s no harm in it. Not every fashion house can tick all boxes; we can’t do what brands like Zara do and vice versa — they’re very different business models. Plus, they’re bigger businesses, and change isn’t very easy for them as it is for us. That doesn’t mean they can’t have sustainable business practices; it simply means that it’ll take a bit of time, and whether they like it or not, eventually, they’ll have to make their practices ethically viable.
Sell sustainable fashion to the common man and not just to the eco-conscious
80 per cent of our consumers are the common people. I believe sustainable buying should be mainstream now since it’ll be something we’ll all have to do in the future. People are having trouble realising that our outfits have a cost that we’ll have to pay for in the future. Therefore, those at the forefront of the fashion industry must educate the people to act fast on understanding the impact on unsustainable purchasing practices, and that’s what we are doing at House of Lonali. Although we have a long way to go, our vision is to make sure everyone around the globe own a piece of Lonali.
You can commercialize your fashion business without giving up on your creative identity
When I started, I wanted to create things in a certain way, but then I figured out that there is no one out there to buy my products. Then I started to learn what people needed and delivered them with a touch of ‘Lonali’ in it. The thing is you’ll have to compromise on some factors, however don’t lose out on your originality. It’s tricky, but you can provide people with what them want without giving up on your identity.
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.