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  • Writer's pictureAnnika Fernando

PR Rising Star | kǣli

PR is proud to launch Ruwanthi Gajadeera's label kǣli. Although this young designer's collection is retailing for the first time, Ruwanthi has already been acknowledged with awards and international recognition for her work and joins us as a celebrated label who has already been featured in several international publications. Just last year, in October '21, Ruwanthi Gajadeera became the first South Asian to win the prestigious Taiwan Fashion Designer Award.

kǣli translates to 'pieces' in Sinhala and Ruwanthi's primary inspiration is to bring pieces of waste fabrics incorporating diminishing heritage craftsmanship together to create innovative textiles. In this manner, she attempts to combine environmental and social aspects to create impactful garments by empowering the marginalised artisans and most importantly Mother Earth by designing responsibly.

We had been watching Ruwanthi for some time, but it was truly special to see her work in the flesh and the craft, detail and passion with which each item is created in. Her collection features some amazing jackets and outerwear which could very easily be styled into statement dresses. kǣli pants and skirts are complex in construction and designed to be layered within the collection although easily paired with simple shirts and t-shirts too.

"I used zero-waste, upcycling, and reconstruction techniques that not only produce a low-waste garment but also display the interrelations of these different methods in a cohesive manner. I collected preloved denim that I was able to upcycle by deconstructing them in a fashion that allowed me to embody them into my collection," says Ruwanthi.

PR Tell us about the collection you are launching at PR

Ruwanthi This collection is the emotional part of my journey through Japan, as a physical expression. The tour was a spiritual in finding my identity and exploring Japanese philosophies, with my background of growing up in a Buddhist family.

It was challenging to bring out my perspectives through sustainable textile weaving. I wove each weft with several colours to express my mood and emotional connection with the philosophy with which I wanted to follow, with each look.

PR What led you to study fashion and design?

Ruwanthi I am originally from a small village called Padiyatalawa in Ampara and I moved to Colombo for my education. I studied at Ladies College in Colombo and it was post O Levels, after a very long discussion with my father, that I realized I should feed my passion in art and design. I started studying Landscape Architecture at the University of Moratuwa but whenever I went to the library to study, I found myself lost inside fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle and Harpers Bazaar.

It was here that I took a good look at myself and started to recognize my love for fashion.

Ruwanthi says it was the Shilanthi Abayagunawardana Textile Scholarship and the Northumbria University Academic Excellence Scholarship which kickstarted her journey in fashion. This created the opportunity for her to participate on the International Catwalk, representing Sri Lanka at the 30th Anniversary of Graduate Fashion Week in London where she was awarded Runner-up. Thereafter she was declared Semi-Finalist at the Redress Design Awards 2021 and won a Silver Award in Textile and Materials at International Designs Awards 2021 for the handloom panels Ruwanthi developed using waste yarn.

Ruwanthi showcased her work at the International Baltic Ethic Fashion Festival in St Petersburg where she won First Place in the Eco-Fashion category and Second Runner-up position at Sakura Collection Design Awards in Tokyo.

This young Sri Lankan also competed with 450 designers from 18 countries and regions including Europe, the Americas and Asia and won the Fashion Newcomer Award at Taipei Fashion Week 2021, the oldest official fashion competition in Asia.

It is this winning collection which is currently showcased at PR and was also featured in Vogue Taiwan.

The latest collection she completed was for Redress Design Awards 2022, the world's largest sustainable fashion design competition. Being one of the ten finalists, Ruwanthi's collection features zero-waste patterns and convertible and reversible garments and was featured in Vogue Hong Kong October'21 Issue (below).

"I am inspired by design brands such as Sacai and designers such as Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe & Issey Miyake, " Ruwanthi tells us and it's no surprise they are all Japanese!

"I would say kǣli Vol.1 features many textural explorations and silhouette experimentations." Ruwanthi says about her debut collection at PR. They are all silhouettes designed to be layered or feature as individual statements.

We asked Ruwanthi to share and explain the craft processes included in the pieces and what inspires the colours and print designs.

"I used zero-waste, upcycling, and reconstruction techniques that not only produce a low-waste garment but also display the interrelations of these different methods in a cohesive manner. Zero-waste techniques have allowed me to breathe new life into the textile by combining waste thread and yarn with heritage crafts such as crochet, bobbin lace and handloom to produce innovative textiles. I was able to up-cycle end-of-roll textiles and cut-and-sew waste into timeless pieces. I collected preloved denim and repurposed it by deconstructing them into patchwork."

The colours in her collection are inspired by Japanese traditional Boro kimonos and indigo. She's used vermillion and scarlet as contrasting colours for vibrancy but also due to the Japanese cultural significance of the colour red. The shades of beiges and browns are created using tea dyes.

PR How do you feel about being a PR Rising Star in 2022?

Ruwanthi I’m super excited since it is a very good opportunity for young local talent to shine. It creates a perfect platform to grow and prosper as a local designer who is trying to uplift craft in a contemporary context. Moreover, PR Rising Star also provides young designers such as myself with lots of hands-on experience and insights into retail. It is truly a privilege to work with Annika, Shiromi, Veronica and the team.

"I think the biggest local inspiration for me is the local artisans who are creating their craft from the front porch of their houses. They are excellent storytellers and have contributed immensely to keep the artisanal crafts of this paradise island alive."

PR Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?

Ruwanthi This collection is very close to my heart and even the idea of retailing, letting it go it was a difficult choice I had to make. It's like asking a parent which child is their favourite. But there is a piece with a special backstory, the long coat with Dumbara Panel at the back (see below). It was woven by a handicapped veteran from the Hill Country.

The Dumbara panel attempts to tell a story using the contrasting two elephants and different traditional motifs blended with contemporary textures who I am as a designer and an individual.

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