I’m qualified as a lawyer and trained as a diplomat so many people ask me what I’m doing in the fashion industry? During my work with the development sector and in government, I started asking myself for whom the policies I was making for were. I felt an urgent need to be on the receiving end and that’s when I decided to move to Selyn, my family-owned business. I wanted to be a better manager and see exactly who I was making the change for.
I took on the business development side of the company and wanted to consolidate all the work Selyn had been doing for the past 30 years. From restructures to new product lines, I took this task by the bull’s horns. It was also time to re-brand our work of so many years and on Selyn’s 25th anniversary, we launched our sub-brand, STHRI. The idea of STHRI was to create a platform for people with initiatives that empower women to come together in collaboration to create beautiful, versatile and affordable clothes. We wanted to ensure that fashion catered to the everyday working woman and that, in turn, helped the thousands of artisans and garment workers to have a better life. We also wanted to extend the ethos of our mother brand to a larger community and, to this date, the brand works with an amazing community of women from designers, to photographers, to digital marketeers and of course artisans—the list is endless.
Now, after several years of experience in a leadership role, I’ve come to know that my forte is the ability to put together a perfect team to work towards a common target. I’m not good at everything, so I surround myself with people who are better than I am. The best way to go about this is to work with people who believe in the same thing as you, and create a healthy environment for them to work in. For instance, Lonali Rodrigo from House of Lonali got on board to design our latest STHRI by Selyn collection. She’s excellent at what she does, and I couldn’t think of a better person to team up with and those pieces turned out to be our latest bestsellers. Collaboration is the new competition; if we don’t work together we will not have a future.
My perceptions of life changed vastly when I gave birth to my daughter and through that experience, I know why I have to do what I do now. So, I’ve set my mind to work on empowering
women at all levels, from executives to artisans. In order to do this, in the private sector, we need to be able to give them jobs and also give them the ability to stay in their jobs; this is a crucial distinction to make. On my part, in addition to staying committed to a social ethos, I need to ensure that our business is sustainable in order to keep doing what we’re doing. It’s necessary for business leaders in the world to now protect a “triple bottom-line” so that no one is left behind. We need to ensure that the planet and the people do not suffer for our profit.
Right now, Sri Lanka has the upper hand in carving out a space in the global sphere as one of the biggest sustainable fashion destinations —we’ve got both the talent and materials. Looking inward, as a fashion brand committed to sustainability, Selyn has been working on initiatives to gather like-minded brands to come together on the subject. This is just the start and there is always more to do. It’s an exciting time to be in this space, especially to have the chance to be in the driving seat.
I’m so proud of my progressive career journey, and very glad I didn’t get into the family business right away. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to do things that resonated deep within me. So, if you do anything, make sure you don’t settle for mediocracy. Always go out and do something extraordinary.
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.