Colour has never been absent from Sri Lankan fashion or textile design. Colour is certainly a common denominator when it comes to Sri Lankans, in clothing and in attitude. In all the aspects of Sri Lankan design that we will mention in this article, colour has something to do with it. From all the contemporary designers and collections, with whom we find the most colour and the most playful use of it, the M FACT collection at Barefoot Ceylon uses it best.
Sarees are the usual attire for women in Sri Lanka. Some wear a saree on a daily basis, out of choice, or because their work uniform calls for a saree. School teachers and office women wear sarees, as well as tea pluckers when it is their custom. Contemporary designers have taken the saree and redesigned it using new kinds of fabrics, like tie-dye or modern linen.
Contemporary designer, Nythia, designs unique sarees with fun batik designs, while ICO Sri Lanka designs urban sarees with handwoven cotton fabrics. Every woman in Sri Lanka gets herself a new saree for special occasions, like Christmas. Sri Lankan women have everyday and special occasion sarees, just like westerners do with dresses.
Sarongs are the basic garment for men in Sri Lanka and in most of Southeast Asia. The original sarong is a tube of fabric folded and knotted at the waist at different lengths, depending on what the wearer is doing. In Sri Lanka, you will see men of all cultures wearing sarongs, such as tuk tuk drivers, fishermen, cooks and more recently, businessmen, who wear the modern sarong with pockets or even the tuxedo sarong by Lovi Sarongs.
Local contemporary designers in Sri Lanka have redesigned the original tube sarong in different ways. Barefoot Ceylon creates gorgeous classic sarongs with bright colours, all handcrafted in a handloom. Lovi Sarongs went a step further and added an easy-wear style with elegant designs and a tie-up string with pockets. Their newest designs are done in denim with an astronaut print.
Batik is the art of creating designs on fabric using wax and colour dyes. Batik was introduced to Sri Lanka a little more than a hundred years ago and was brought from Indonesia. Since then, Sri Lankan batik has taken on a style of its own and contemporary designers are using the technique in their own designs. From sarees to dresses and men’s shirts, batik designs appear everywhere these days and some are quite spectacular.
Nythia, who was mentioned earlier, works with batik with great results, using designs that are not of Sri Lankan origin, but rather, have more of a western feel. There is plenty of batik in Sri Lanka but not all is as unique as the batik created by contemporary designers.
Being an island, Sri Lanka is a hot country. And there is no better fabric for hot countries than linen. Linen clothing is usually simple and clean cut, letting the fabric speak for itself. The new line, April Spence, by renowned contemporary Sri Lankan designer, Shaakya, is a light and feminine collection made up of sea- and sand-inspired pieces decorated with embroidery and beeralu lace. Tropic of Linen, an established linen house, always has new designs out, including sarongs, shirts and dresses.
Contemporary sustainable fashion in Sri Lanka uses materials sourced from the leftover fabric and trims that big factories usually burn or send to landfills. The new garments are sown by women around the country who work to sustain their families. The first ethical fashion designer in Sri Lanka was Red Cocoon, created by Mihiri de Silva in 2010. Nowadays, the most popular sustainable fashion designer is House of Lonali. Lonali sources scraps from factories all around Sri Lanka and employs craft artisans to make high fashion clothing and accessories.
The handloom is a century-old technique used in Sri Lanka for making sarees and sarongs. Companies like Barefoot Ceylon and Seylan Fair Trade have brought the handloom into a new light by creating not only beautiful clothing but also home products like napkins, placemats, table covers and duvets.
Barefoot Ceylon calls on designers to create new collections every year and celebrates it with a fashion show in the courtyard of their Garden Cafe in Colombo. The garments from these collections are only available in the Colombo flagship store.
Denim is one of the newest introductions to the Sri Lankan contemporary fashion scene. Designers like Nythia use denim for her modern sarees and other designers use it to make easy dresses or shirts. But there is no other Sri Lankan designer that uses denim like H-D by Hafsa. Every design in the H-D line is created with denim and they are all unique.