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Creating Global Demand for Sri Lankan Handloom

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Taking Sri Lanka’s 2500-year history of handloom to the next generation of global designers

London College of Fashion, with Selyn, Sri Lanka’s leading and only fair trade handloom manufacturer, has launched a unique collaboration that brings together Sri Lanka’s 2500 year old history of handloom to the capital of fashion and heart of London to meet future designers wanting to create impact with design. Selyn has been working with all three schools at London College of Fashion; Fashion Business School, School of Design and Technology and School of Media and Communication.

Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sri Lankan handloom industry faces major obstacles to growth with rising costs of production, limited access to world markets and an ageing artisan workforce. This has sadly resulted in many having to put down the loom and shuttle, to retire or look elsewhere for opportunities.

Selyn’s Head of Business Development & Director Selyna Peiris says, “An easy choice for us would have been to say, “handloom is affected, there is no market for it anymore”, call it quits and focus on other income streams for the business, but this would have left our handloom artisans at a serious disadvantage and would have been contrary to our commitment we have towards uplifting our community and the handloom sector at large. Instead, we saw this as the perfect opportunity to pivot, re-position and pitch Sri Lankan handloom in a very different way to a luxury premium market while using blockchain technology to bring greater transparency to the industry. Thanks to an initial funding from U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of a Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Covid recovery fund, we were able to launch a new business vertical, Selyn Textiles, to reposition and gain market entry to the UK, Europe and the world.”

University of the Arts London are ranked 2nd in the world for Art and Design in 2021, much of this is attributed to their leading faculty, research, curriculum and forward-thinking approach to design whilst engaging students with global partnerships and opportunities. “We see this collaboration with Selyn as a fantastic opportunity to give our students a first-hand experience of how the industry works and explore alternative models of designing, business development and teamwork by co-creating across the supply chain and breaking silo mindsets”, says Hannah Middleton Knowledge Exchange Lead at Fashion Business School at London College of Fashion.

Sandra Wanduragala, Founder Chairman of Selyn explains that “This year is Selyn’s 30th anniversary and we are honoured to be collaborating with the schools at London College of Fashion, one of the world’s best creative schools to inspire the next generation of designers and to bring awareness to an ancient craft that is core to the Sri Lankan DNA. Our rich heritage and opportunity to connect creativity, artisanal craft and tech with the integration of blockchain means we open the door for a new, inclusive and truly collaborative way forward.”

Prof. Robert Meeder, Consultant to Selyn Textiles, says, “This partnership came about through a combined collective passion for providing opportunities to those that need it the most – Sri Lanka’s artisans – bringing them to the forefront of the design process. Between us all we shared many discussions on the right opportunity, it was in the making for a long time but key to the initiative was Sri Lankan born UAL academic Dr Emmanuel Sirimal Silva. “It’s such a pleasure and honour to connect the dots between bright creative minds and Sri Lankan heritage. Selyn is a brand with a social purpose that aligns with the values (people, planet, profit and purpose) underpinning Fashion Business School at London College of Fashion. We look forward to exploring this collaboration further and investigating market and consumer appeal in the UK through Fashion Business Research Centre at UAL”, says Dr. Silva, Head of Research Coordination: Fashion Business School.

Key partners and supporters of the launch included Truly Ceylon Tea as well as Global Fashion Exchange founder and CEO Patrick Duffy, “I could not think of a better collaboration to support education, social impact on a global scale. This is a unique opportunity to bring awareness to the handloom – the first and original “tool” of craft technology. The development and inclusive participation of weavers, designers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and marketers signals a new way and opportunity to show full transparency. We need to shake things up, no more “I the designer making fashion for my own ego’s sake” but welcome the future where we are all equal players at the design table that’s inclusive, collaborative and transparent.”

Students across London College of Fashion, UAL will be designing, developing, and working together to create designs, campaigns, business plans and products, some of which will be developed further into products to be showcased later this year.

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