The new wave

Niyoshala Kumar, Director of Beverly Street and Founder of Ayana Apparel, is hellbent on keeping things as home-grown as possible

The new wave

Niyoshala Kumar, Director of Beverly Street and Founder of Ayana Apparel, is hellbent on keeping things as home-grown as possible

How did your journey start? 

NK: I studied Organisational and Social Psychology in London. I tried my hand at journalism and marketing before doing something completely different by working in consultancy for a tech firm. The world is constantly evolving—it’s no longer a world where people stick to one career path, so it’s more fun to try your hand at different skills and figure it out. As much as I loved the UK, I missed our beautiful island so I came back and started working with my family business, Beverly Street, to develop it further.

What are some of your milestones? 

NK: I’m proud of continuing to develop the Beverly Street model of producing locally, and in recent years, we’ve multiplied doing this. We design and create customised products in conjunction with emerging homegrown brands with local craftsman and artisans across the country.

We’re also working on building the Beverly Street brand to make it more multidimensional. Over the past few years we opened up a multi-cuisine restaurant, Café Beverly, and added a nail studio and foot spa to our service offerings. Our restaurant has won TripAdvisor awards every year since it’s been open so I have our amazing chefs and staff to thank for that!

Four years ago, I started experimenting with design and Ayana was born with the vision of creating bold, comfortable and affordable clothing for women. Our fabrics are handpicked and we produce a finite number of pieces to keep our designs unique. Thanks to some great partnerships and a streamlined production line, Ayana garments have grown to 65 per cent of our ladies department covering a range of linens, basics and plus sizes. We’ve also expanded beyond garments to produce shoes, bags accessories and skincare to a loyal customer base. Currently, we are working on creating a more bespoke line of custom designs.

I recently went back to my psychology roots and trained to be a counsellor. In general, I think everyone can benefit from understanding mental health and wellbeing. By increasing our awareness about the stigma surrounding mental health, and understanding disorders and their impact in Sri Lanka, we can foster a healthier, more accepting society.

 

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You’ve got more than one business under your belt and you do it exceptionally. What’s your day like?

NK: I try to start my mornings well to set the tone for the day. That’s usually breakfast with my fiancé, playing with my dogs and doing some light news reading. On the way to the Beverly Street head office on Galle Road, I chat to suppliers and colleagues on the phone to prep for the day or week. Then, I run through my task list and check my emails.

I focus on design work for garments and products in the morning. I jot down thoughts in the Notes app on my phone if I see anything that acts as a source of inspiration. This list comes in handy at this point. Then I attend meetings with the suppliers and manufacturers for product development and sourcing either in office or out of it.

Our office is quite an informal space where all the departments are close to each other so HR, Finance, Purchasing are always in discussion with one another and that helps collaboration and manage workflow. At some point of the day, I do a floor walk with my managers to determine fulfillment needs, gaps in customer requirements and progress of the nail and foot therapy area of the business. When required, I work on marketing campaigns or design print and online content with my graphic designer.

In the afternoons I go to Beverly Street in Rajagiriya and Café Beverly to chat to staff on how they’re doing and figure out store requirements. By the time I get back home, it’s around 6 PM and I wind down by watching some Netflix or catch up with friends/family. Recently I’ve started cooking a lot, so I like to try out new recipes for dinner. On days that aren’t busy I try to squeeze in a swim—I love the water!

On the days when you can’t control the odds, how do you keep moving forward?

NK: I get frustrated in these situations, but there is comfort in realising it’s fine to feel emotions and process them at your pace. Our thoughts are always accompanied by emotions and it’s the emotions we recognise that overrides logical decisions. I take my time to detangle my thoughts and question why I’m feeling a certain way. Taking a logical approach to the challenge and reframing it positively, helps me deal with it better.

What’s your message to all brown girls who want to make it big young? 

NK: It’s important to enjoy being young. Be creative, let your imagination run wild! Don’t compartmentalise yourself and set rigid standards — be free, curious and experiment. A lot of personal growth stems from doing things out-of-the-box. Try and learn something new every day—you are never too young or old to learn!

Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.