Shana Dandeniya likes to have a lot going on. “I’m constantly juggling between things, and I really enjoy that. It’s bloody stressful,” she admits. “But if I’m not in that environment, I feel like I’m getting bored and out of touch with things.” And she is keeping her metaphorical plate full — she founded and runs both Café Kumbuk and Plus Nine Four, as well as Quality Control, a small agency offering consultation, branding and social media-handling services for start-ups and front-runners alike. The concept for Kumbuk was initially devised as part of her final project while at university in London, where she studied advertising. “I’m thankful for that last project because it solidified what I was looking to do. It was the first time I actually thought of a name, and started branding,” she says. But even then, less than a year before Kumbuk would eventually open, it wasn’t something Shana was certain she’d do. “It was never something that I thought, okay, I’m gonna move back to Sri Lanka and do this, it was just like, maybe somewhere down the line.”
Before Kumbuk was conceptualised, Shana had trialled a lot of different career paths before landing on a degree in advertising. She’d always leaned towards more creative pursuits, she says, “And I think I went through every single job role that I could have in that sector before I landed on this.” She started with a foundation course in art and design, did a photography diploma, and experimented with a number of other short courses. Then, she decided she was at a crossroads. “I needed to figure out an undergrad degree that I could do that allowed me to still explore whilst also being a very solid foundation. And that’s when advertising came into my view, and I didn’t realise how much I was going to love it later on.”
When she came back to Sri Lanka after graduating, it was not with the intention of setting up a business, or even of settling down. “Initially, I came back here just to get a break from England and, you know, be in the sunshine for a little bit,” she says. “And after a couple of months, I realised that there was a big gap in the market to make Kumbuk happen if I wanted to. At that point, I didn’t realize how much investment, and all the ins-and-outs of it. It was just like, there is room for this.”. The independence and autonomy of starting her own business was an added bonus. “I’ve always had that thing where I want to do something for myself, and that became pretty apparent as soon as I came back.”
Starting a business is a “really, really difficult task”. In hospitality, she says, “you have to work really hard and graft really hard until you start reaping the rewards.” She’s been doing that first part for a while now— she started Quality Control in 2016, and opened Plus Nine Four, a sister cafe to Kumbuk, in 2017. The former, she says, came about after people started noticing Kumbuk’s sleek, sunny marketing content (their Instagram is the aesthetic equivalent of what a long weekend feels like) and reached out to ask who was behind it. With her background in and passion for advertising, Shana saw an opportunity and took it. “If you really enjoy it, there’s a chance that you’ll be able to do it as a job, and be good at it,” she shares.
When I ask her how she’s managed to start so many businesses from scratch without fear getting in the way, she credits her early experiences with taking risks and dealing with their outcomes. “I think sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t, so now I’m used to the success and the failures, and with whatever happens. There are things you have to try or else you’re never going to know,” she says. “And I’m always looking for the next thing.”
Photography: Amitha Thennakoon. Hair And Make-Up: Art By Ashradha. Fashion: Sumaiya Shuaibdeen. Beauty: Iman Saleem. Art Direction: Ricardo De Silva. Editor-In-Chief: Shihaam Hassanali
Rukshi wears: Dress, Armani Exchange. Earrings, Mango
Sharanya wears: Top, Sharanya’s Own. Skirt: Lëila available at Raaya Clothing & Accessories. Necklace, Raaya Clothing & Accessories.
Shana wears: Dress, Anuk available at PR. Earrings & Ring, Cher By Chevonne available at PR