Saturday, 14 June 2014 00:05
Swatches of vibrant colour and vivid prints greet the eye as you step into SALT – from colourful crop-tops to dramatic floor-sweeping batik dresses and everything in-between, this nook just off Havelock Road is home to stunning items of tie-dye and batik clothing, and though this small store keeps a low profile, it has certainly not gone unnoticed!
Commencing with day-sales that took place in locations all over Colombo, piquing the interest of Colombo’s fashionistas, in over a year SALT has grown in both size and popularity, and now houses its clothing in its own space in addition to retailing at the clothing store PR.
SALT is the brainchild of Prasanna Segarajasekeran, who, unexpectedly enough, is an engineer by profession. Having studied engineering and worked in the field in the UK for several years, family commitments saw him return to Sri Lanka. And while he wanted to commence something on his own upon his return, Prasanna himself admits that this is not what he had in mind at all.
“My mom’s been doing batik for about 20 years now, not as a large business but just to make some money on the side for herself. So I didn’t have to go out and look for people because she already had the people doing work for her. It’s just that I had to tweak things a bit and change the patterns,” he explained. “How it all came about is I ended up making a few things for a couple of my friends to wear and they were received quite well, so I made a few more…”
SALT has been in existence for over a year now, from starting up as a Facebook page to setting up shop, which came about when Prasanna saw SALT’s potential. PR’s Annika Fernando also played a role in this, he stated, as she had come to him before he even had a proper Facebook page and made him believe that there was more potential in his business.
“I like working with Annika because of her honesty. She calls a spade a spade, and that kind of honesty is very important to me, and helped SALT progress in the right direction.”
It’s quite simple, he said. SALT is a beachwear brand – the name has the connotation of sea salt. Salt is also used in most of the dyes used for batik. “One of my closest friends is one of the main reasons why SALT came about. She’s really pushed me to do this and was one of the people I made the initial batch of clothes for, and she suggested the name SALT.”
Prasanna works with a very small team of people – and his style of working requires them all to understand him very well. No proper sketches and plans make their way into this process – he admitted that his ideas are mainly in his mind and the team is required comprehend his thought processes on a certain level for it to come together.
“I’m really lucky to have a really talented bunch of people working for me,” he added.
Initially, he used to draw up all the patterns himself. Even the tie-dyes involve patterns that he has trained his team to do although now, they have settled in and experiment with their own ideas as well, which turn out pretty well.
When questioned as to where he draws inspiration from, he stated that there really is no specific area as such. “I don’t personally believe in fashion trends and sticking to certain colours for certain seasons. SALT is for people with style as opposed to people who follow fashion trends. It’s not for everybody,” he noted.
Just a cog in the wheel
“It took a while because with this process, everyone who works for me has to understand that they are all only just a part of the process, as when one individual starts feeling more important than the other, the smooth flow of our operation breaks, which affects the outcome,” Prasanna pointed out.
His team consists of two tailors, a main tailor and a person who helps him. “The tailor is a very talented guy who really doesn’t know his own potential. He used to do really awful clothing for about 20 bucks a piece before I found him and I was quite lucky to find him.”
Next is a lady who does the waxing. Patterns are drawn on the fabric and she then waxes on top of that and colours are added to it. The more colours added, the longer the process. A colour is added and the fabric is then re-waxed – this process is repeated until all colours are added and the fabric is finally boiled to get the wax out.
“Again, she’s extremely capable. The only problem is that she can’t come up with designs on her own but she’s really skilled and very good at the waxing as long as the patterns are drawn, so that’s how it works. We take the fabric, draw the pattern on it and then she waxes on top of that,” he explained.
There is then a brother and sister duo, both very young, who do the artwork, overseen by Prasanna. He also has a person who helps him out with the dyeing. “My tie-dye guy is extremely versatile and is also very helpful. And the brother and sister who help with the artwork are very young but also really talented.”
Finally, there is the lady who helps out in the store itself, who, in Prasanna’s words, has been instrumental in the success of SALT.
Prasanna admitted that SALT would not have gotten to where it is today without his friends who have been involved in every single aspect of it.
“I never paid for any of my models – they are all my friends who modelled for free and are beautiful girls as well. My photographers, again my friends, who never charge me. My investors too are my friends and they don’t expect as much in return as other investors do. I’ve been really blessed with really good friends who want to see me do well.”
Plans for the future
He would eventually like to have more branches in Colombo as well as outstation, and cited Galle and Mirissa as examples. Prasanna has also been approached by several people overseas about reselling SALT in other countries.
“For me, it’s really important who I work with – it’s more important to me than the benefit working with them could bring to my business.”
He admitted that while expanding is a risk right now, it is on the cards in the future. “I’ve always wished Sri Lanka had ‘cool’ high street brands because we have so many high-end designers and not enough ‘Zaras’ and ‘Topshops’.”
Asked as to whether that was what he was aiming for, he said: “Hopefully, if people like SALT enough!”