• Annika Fernando

PR Designer | The Old Railway

We interviewed Catherine Rawson, designer of The Old Railway fashion label, which launched at PR in July. This label is an important representation of the local fashion scene. The Old Railway has graced the ramps of Colombo Fashion Week for years and Catherine's design and production story is an example of how the local slow fashion scene is just naturally sustainable and ethical without using it as a marketing flag, in the way fabric is sourced, the team behind the label and Catherine's principles.


PR - Catherine, what brought you to Sri Lanka and what has made you stay?

Catherine - I came in 2006 to visit a friend of mine who was doing a work placement in Colombo. It was my first trip to Asia and I was fascinated with everything about it! I met and fell in love with Rasika, a man from Galle. After a few years of going back and forth between the UK and Sri Lanka, I decided to move my life here permanently. We married, started a business and have a family together.


PR - Why is Galle home?

Catherine - Galle has a special place in my heart. I spent much time on the surrounding coastline and in the ramparts over the years when I was travelling between the UK and Sri Lanka. My husband's family live here, we talked about and developed our business here and our two children were born here. There has never even been a discussion about us living anywhere else on the island! It has changed so much in the time that I have lived here. It used to feel quite sleepy and town like, now it has more of a city feel and the roads are busy with traffic all through the day.

PR - Tell us about The Old Railway, what inspired the name and tell us about how you launched the label.

Catherine - Rasika and I decided that we wanted to set up a business that combined our talents. I would run a creative workspace with retail and studio in the same place and he would rent motorbikes and help tourists with travel around the island. We also knew that we wanted to open a café later on to have a place where tourists would be able to shop, rest, eat and arrange tours and airport transfers all under one roof.

There was a rumour going around right about the time that my husband and I were wanting to set up our business, that the Galle Railway station was going to undergo redevelopment. Rasika's father owned a property in town behind the railway station which was one of the original store houses for the Ceylon Railway Company. We asked him if we could renovate it and use the space for our business idea. In making something new we were keen to preserve some part of this history so we decided to name our business The Old Railway. As it turns out it was just a rumour and the original train station remains across the canal and tracks from our shop and studio.


PR - You've always had incredibly edgy looks in your styling and shoots for the label, what inspires you in the way you communicate your label?

Catherine - I went to university in London at Central Saint Martins college. Most of the students there were very alternative and came up with weird and wonderful outfits each day. The street culture in London evolves constantly and is a never ending source of inspiration. That influence has stayed with me. I try to create a fly on the wall feel, sort of a day in the life of a particular community or muse scenario on shoots. I have never been that interested by the traditional idea of making the model look pretty in fashion imagery. I like the idea of juxtaposing beauty with attitude, strength and humour. I love fashion photography so the final image as a whole, the composition, the colourings, the vibe is as important for me as showing the clothing. Sometimes I find that the fashion images that best represent a brand have little to do with the actual clothing themselves and more about the tone of the final image.


" I have never been that interested by the traditional idea of making the model look pretty in fashion imagery. I like the idea of juxtaposing beauty with attitude, strength and humour. "






PR - Where are your favourite spots in Sri lanka to travel to?

Catherine - I love seeing the gatherings of elephants in Udawalawe and the hill county around Ella and Adams Peak. Tangalle has a more rugged coasttline which feels wild and dramatic and Colombo has developed into a city that I really enjoy dipping in and out of for an overnight stay with friends.

PR - Tell us about your journey in design?

Catherine - It all stared with my maternal grandmother who was a keen tailor and crafter. I got the bug for being creative and pursued the arts throughout school and into university where I specialised in knitwear. I have always been more inspired by the textiles first, the shapes come later. I am an avid fabric collector and my travels all over the world have enabled me to discover unique textiles, making techniques, embroideries and craftsmanship that have proved inspirational. I worked for some time in London and Paris within their very competitive fashion industries and I felt that I wanted to do something more organic, be more involved with all aspects of the work but on a more intimate scale. That's when I visualised a studio workspace which was integral to a retail space - and The Old Railway was born!

I worked for some time in London and Paris within their very competitive fashion industries and I felt that I wanted to do something more organic, be more involved with all aspects of the work but on a more intimate scale.

PR - Tell us about your team at The Old Railway.

Catherine - You know at the end of fashion show when they call the designer to the stage? I think it's nonsense and I have always hated doing it. The Old Railway isn't just about me.

The team work as a complete unit together. I am currently working with two other tailors in the studio. These ladies have been with me almost from the start of brand and they are incredibly talented and proud of the work that we produce. When you shop in store, buy online, grab a bargain at a market or see our collections at Colombo Fashion Week (CFW), every single piece has been made from scratch, start to finish, design to retail by the three of us.

Chitra is in charge of pattern cutting decisions and is the QC eye on all things technical. Nalani has mastered all of our machines and is adaptable to new ways of working and always excited to try on the samples as fit model. I do the design and some of the pattern drafting, I source all of our fabric and haberdashery items, liase with and do fittings for clients and in store customers, run the website, tend the market stalls and run the business side of things. I also style and conceptualise our promotional materials.

We have had additions on and off to the studio over the years, but the three of us have stayed put, managing always to find a way of pulling from each others strengths and overcoming problems. I couldn't do it without them and they couldn't do it without me.

You know at the end of fashion show when they call the designer to the stage? I think it's nonsense and I have always hated doing it. The Old Railway isn't just about me.
I couldn't do it without them and they couldn't do it without me.

Shop The Old Railway here and in store at PR