Making Sri Lanka a resort wear hub

Friday, 4 October 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Second edition of HSBC Colombo Fashion Week Resort Wear Show kicks off today in Galle
Sri Lanka has aspirations to become a hub for many things in the region. Over and above the commonly-discussed hub concepts such as knowledge, logistics, commerce and energy, we now have a new addition to the list – to become a hub for resort wear within the next three to four years. With HSBC Colombo Fashion Week hosting the second edition of its Resort Wear Show today and tomorrow, Colombo Fashion Week President Ajai Vir Singh joined the Daily FT to share his thoughts on CFW and his plans for the future.CFW is in its tenth year this year By Cheranka Mendis Q: Why did CFW decide on having a separate show for resort wear? A: The Western world driven global fashion industry in the past century with spring/summer and fall/winter concept. Even though we train our students to cater to both these markets I felt that our designers would be comfortable designing something they wear. Also, two fashion weeks give you a seasonal credibility. Designers abroad make money in two peaks. Here, I wanted to first establish spring/summer and then I felt that it wasn’t enough because our designers were peaking only once. I looked at Sao Paulo which is now a super hub for swimwear. We have similar climates and they have managed to create a fantastic hub there. I found this was interesting and thought of doing something around resorts in Sri Lanka. Q: Why did you choose resort wear specifically? A: Our holiday patterns don’t change. We love to go on holiday to the beach; and this is so in the Western world as well. What is important now is that people have started to pack differently. It isn’t only about the swimwear but they want to take a maxi, etc. This shows that there is an emergence and a buying need for resort wear to come in. At the HSBC CFEW Resort Wear Show we categorised resort wear in to holiday wear, swimwear, beachwear and cruise wear. We felt that the whole line – from Maldives to Indonesia where there are many resorts would work as an advantage for us, that this fashion could be successful here. What we are looking at is creating a hub for resort wear here; it makes sense. For our designers, I am giving them an environment where they are good at creating – an environment they can experiment, try and use their crafts. This is why we brought in the crafts workshop with Bibi Russell and Otara – to have local textiles and crafts in fashion. We can own this. Q: Is this why you tied up with Fashion TV? A: When I researched I also realised that all the spring/summer resort fashion wear is shown around the world on Fashion TV in September. The whole buying community will be watching Fashion TV during this period. This is why we tied up with Fashion TV. Our resort fashion show will be showcased after the resort wear collections from New York, London and Paris. Q: What would you say your vision is for the Resort Wear Show? A: My vision for this is to be a hub for resort wear in three-four years. My big dream is people recognising Sri Lanka as a place to showcase their resort wear collection in the coming years and buyers choosing Sri Lanka as the location to be to see the resort wear collections for their retail stores. Q: Resort Wear Show was initiated last year. How successful was it? A: It has been very successful. Last year we had seven designers – three international and four international. When I told our local designers to design resort wear, we had to explain the concept of resort wear and that it is not limited to swimwear only. They struggled last year. But this year I thought of extending it to two days to have eight Sri Lankan designers and four international designers. However the response was overwhelming and I now have 15 Sri Lankan designers. Because of this we had to cut down international designers to two – Bibi Russell and Jason and Anshu. Q: What was the reason behind choosing a location out of Colombo for the show? A: My intention has always been to work alongside tourism. In any part of the world fashion week and tourism work together. Because it is a new concept I didn’t want to do it in Colombo and wanted to create a scenario where those attending can look at the fashion and say ‘hey, this is where we wear it.’ This is also playing to Sri Lanka’s strength because this is what we can showcase. We held it in Negombo last year and will be hosting it in Galle this year. The first night is at Galle Fort and day two is Lighthouse. It is all part of our efforts to make this a landmark show in Asia. Q: How many buyers are you expecting for this? A: While there are a number of international buyers, we are also developing the local buying industry. We have committed in to a retail partnership with Odel where Otara is coming in as Retail Advisor. We are also renewing our association with Cotton Collection, Trunk and Melache. While we invite buyers from abroad I am focusing more on local buyers here. It is a missed opportunity as we see many stores selling surplus. If the business grows within Sri Lanka it is a win-win. Q: Why did you want to start CFW in the first place? A: When I first came here I saw all other creative industries doing well, be it architecture, photography, interior, art; except for fashion. I had friends in fashion and I loved fashion so I wanted to see if there’s a chance of establishing something here. It was a lot of passion that drove me towards it. When we started we struggled for three designers now there are fashion schools, fashion retailer involved. We have impacted everybody. We have stuck on to one motive since we started which is to uplift Sri Lanka’s fashion design industry – create and uplift. Q: There seem to be confusion in the industry between what apparel is and what fashion is. What differentiates the two? A: They are two very different things. It is two sides of the supply chain. Fashion is the front end of the supply chain which consumers interact with. Supply chain interacts with apparel – what fabric to buy, what do I make, how do I make. It is taken by a designer who has given to the apparel industry to manufacture. That is the order of the interaction with the consumer. When consumer interacts with fashion it is emotional. When apparel guys interact with garments it is rational. That is the key difference. The nature of the business is as such that in apparel they tailor or manufacture for brands which are in the western world. They are contract manufacturers. In fashion you are the owner of the label and you outsource to manufacture. Q: Why would you say fashion is an emotional game? A: Why it is emotional is when I started Colombo Fashion Week I didn’t see many people wearing Sri Lankan labels (unless you wore a batik t-shirt from a souvenir shop). Colombo Fashion Week has been successful in bringing pride in Sri Lankan labels. Once you bring pride, then there is the hunger to wear it. Then the cash follows. You have to reach a level of pride; that is why it is an emotional business. Prada, Chanel and Giorgio Armani they sell on emotion – “I’m wearing the new collection”. Q: With the industry developing, there seems to be confusion between CFW and SLDF as well. Your comments? A: What I have been made to understand is that SLDF is about design – graphics, photography, interior design and fashion; and the fashion aspect here is more on the apparel side of it. We are fashion, and fashion, and fashion. We don’t know anything else. However we don’t compete. They are about design and we are about fashion. I am for the fashion industry and I wholeheartedly appreciate everyone who works for the fashion industry. Q: CFW has worked towards developing Intellectual Properties (IPs). Your comments? A: Yes, we are about fashion and developing the fashion intellectual properties (IPs). Dharshi was our first success story. We launched Dharshi in 2007 with a standing ovation at the finale. Yes, she is part of Buddhi Batiks but she has a certain IP; that’s what we do. Then came Kanchana in 2008, people knew her overnight because of CFW. Yoland was revived. They are all IPs we’ve helped make. How do we do it? We work with them; get their point of views out, emotions out. We are about the commerce of fashion i.e. commerce of a creative industry. Yes, rupees and cents come in to play but emotions drive it. We work around it, showcase it and tighten and sharpen points of view of designers in the real world. Designers come from fashion schools. Teaching them, giving them a graduation degree isn’t enough. We are the bridge between graduation shows and the real world. We talk to them and see if we can clean up the raw edges. We don’t interfere with their designer philosophy but sharpen it. This is something that cannot be done in schools or which the apparel industry can’t do. Q: Why does CFW not sell tickets? A: Many ask this question because we can earn so much from selling tickets. However we keep it as it is because I want the right consumer there – I want the fashion consumer, the fashion media and the fashion buyer who will influence the designer in the real world. Designers get comments from them which are not always positive but this is the real world. This is an amazing exposure that others can’t give. Q: Who is a fashion buyer? A: Apparel buyers are not fashion buyers. NEXT, J.Crew, Topshop, Asos will come and place order for manufacturing then they are the buyers for apparel industry. We don’t deal with them. We deal with multi-store, multi-brand buyers because they are the buyers of fashion. Unless they do design collaboration like they do with high profile designers, apparel buyers are not fashion buyers. We have consistently a brand called Ensemble coming in for the past few years. They are an icon in India and present in Dubai with plans to open in New York, etc. They buy Sri Lankan designers. We don’t want them to play lip service and buy just one or two pieces. We focus on them. We are now looking at Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Dubai – independent buyers who want to buy Sri Lankan design to retail in their stores. Q: For local designers to go global, what should they focus on? A: They need to understand their production ability, the quality aspect. Design is linked to quality, not only in production. Something that is rooted here but acceptable worldwide like my brand Arugam Bay. You must have an international appeal. People should be at home wearing it anywhere in the world. Q: How fashionable are Sri Lankans? A: Sri Lankans are quite fashionable. It starts from bottom-up. For example, even our tuk drivers in Sri Lanka are better dressed than those in India. It has really gone down to the bottom and people are aware of what they are doing, the hairstyles, the trends, etc. Q: There is a notion that fashion is expensive. Your views? A: No, I don’t think so. Designing and good quality comes at a cost; and that is the general cost. Fashion isn’t expensive.