By Ruqyyaha Deane
As Colombo Fashion Week (CFW) enters its 19th consecutive edition this month, from February 24 to 26, Founder and Managing Director, Ajai Vir Singh, is quietly satisfied with how this development project has, step by step, created a whole fashion ecosystem in Sri Lanka.
This year, with the theme “Green Conscious Earth Sensitive”, CFW is taking another step towards achieving its vision of creating a unique Sri Lankan design identity with sustainability, responsible fashion and a circular economy at its core, said Ajai at the Sunday Times.
It was a difficult trip. In 2003, even though there were local designers, everything was geared towards elaborate shows. Today, nearly 85% of the designers in the country’s growing fashion industry come from the design development system and CFW, while focusing on glamour, fashion and spectacle, is also about encouraging designers to embrace creativity and sustainability while being a movement that would transform and define key pillars of the fashion industry, says Ajai.
Sri Lanka has a very clean supply chain compared to other countries in the region and this is something that has played a vital role in driving CFW’s mission. Coining the phrase “Guilt-Free Clothing” for the clothing industry, Ajai promoted ethical fashion from 2012.
“It seemed very broad, because the world was just waking up to sustainability. We tried to bring all creators to the ethical side, but many couldn’t and some didn’t want to. In 2017, we started the Responsible Fashion Movement which happened alongside opening up opportunities for designers because we realized it would be hard to push them all out there. It was an incubator, a base of knowledge, where you could educate them, mentor them and get them moving,” he explained, adding that it was for those who wanted to be more ethical.
In 2018, the Responsible Fashion Summit was a new open door for designers who were still hesitant to take the plunge; global thought leadership discussions were held with experts providing insights, solutions and experiences to guide designers.
It is the Responsible Meter, which Ajai explains with great pride, which encourages designers and consumers through its rating system to be more aware of the negative impact of the fashion industry on the environment. The designers were able to gauge exactly where their designs fit the different categories. Launched in 2020 as a pilot, the Responsible Meter continues to be refined. HSBC is now the champion.
“We wanted it to be essentially a dialogue between a creator and the consumer. We wanted consumers to ask questions. The final objective is to promote responsible consumption. The Responsible Meter is globally based on two key aspects; societal well-being and environmental well-being,” he explains.
This year, they will explore these two aspects of well-being by involving experts and connoisseurs so that designers learn and society in general better understands the concepts. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has joined us in emphasizing the importance of supporting and empowering women. The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), the third oldest such NGO in the world, has partnered with CFW to create and raise awareness about wetlands and their importance to our ecosystem.
CFW is also committed to supporting young talent in Design Development which is part of the CFW Accelerate program. “In collaboration with the Italian Embassy, a Next Generation Designer Award will be given to an emerging designer – a cash prize and scholarship to study fashion at a leading design institute in Milan. HSBC creates also an HSBC CFW Emerging Designer Fund where five emerging designers will identify and provide financial assistance,” said Ajai.
“The vision when CFW was created was to revive the industry because there were practically no designers. There was no platform to push it, no design ecosystem. Thus, CFW started working from the very beginning to create a creative ecosystem for the fashion industry and that is what it has developed over the past 19 years,” Ajai says proudly.
During a press conference held Thursday at the Shangri-La Hotel, Ajai and CFW partners announced their latest initiatives for CFW 2022. Among the 23 Sri Lankan designers who will showcase their collections are Charini Suriyage, Dimuthu Sahabandu, Sonali Dharmawardena, Amilani Perera, Fouzul Hameed, Indi Yapa Abeywardena, Dinushi Pamunuwa, Kamil Hewavitharana, Achala Leekoh, Himashi Wijeweera, Divya Jayawickrama, Ayesh Wickramaratne and Nilusha Maddumage with three well-known South Asian designers – Rizwan Beyg from Pakistan, the winner of the Woolmark Ward Suket Dhir and RimZim Dadu from India also featured.
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