- A new frontier that combines fashion and tech
By Naveed Rozais
Innovation in fashion is not just to do with stunning design and unique textiles; it’s about seeing how the world around you can be used to take fashion forward and on 18 October, Selyn, one of Sri Lanka’s best-loved handloom brands, took a huge step forward in bridging fashion and tech to drive innovation for Sri Lankan handloom with the launch of Selyn Textiles.
Selyn Textiles is a blend of fashion and tech which uses blockchain technology (essentially a digital system or ledger that records information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to change or hack once it has been stored) to revolutionise the sector by pushing the boundaries it lies within now – moving its product to be able to compete in a market that demands greater transparency.
Founded in 1991 by Attorney-at-Law Sandra Wanduragala in her garage with 15 women from her village of Wanduragala near Kurunegala, over the last three decades, Selyn has grown into one of our country’s top handicraft retail brands, one of our largest social enterprises, and Sri Lanka’s only fair-trade handicrafts company. In 2017, Sandra’s daughter Selyna Peiris joined Selyn full-time to lead its next generation. Taking Selyn to the next level has meant staying true to its history of innovation and values; at 30 years it is about integrating handloom and technology to amplify the message of Selyn’s social enterprise.
Now, with Selyn Textiles, Selyn has taken a huge step forward with the launch of the banana fibre bag, a product that uses blockchain technology to tell a clear, impactful story to customers about the product they’re looking at, from the age and socioeconomic profile of an artisan to the working conditions (and wage), and the environmental impact of that same product, from its carbon footprint to its material composition to how circular it is.
The combination of blockchain technology and handloom is largely unprecedented and comes with its own unique challenges, some of which Selyn shared in a previous interview with The Sunday Morning Brunch. “Normally, the biggest challenge of this kind of integration is creating structures to collect data, measure and report impact, but since Selyn is fair-trade certified and had this system in place since 2003, this is not something we have to deal with,” Selyna Peiris shared. “Our challenge is communicating the value of this move to our artisans and showing them the value of having greater transparency in supply chains.”
Selyn Textile’s move to integrate blockchain technology with its products is supported by a USAID grant offered to SMEs for Covid-19 recovery, which is what has allowed Selyn to be able to take this huge risk. Speaking at the launch of Selyn Textiles, Selyna noted that Selyn was at a pivotal point of transformation – that of being able to create lower quantities of higher-quality products – and that blockchain technology helped amplify this.
The launch of Selyn Textiles is very much a collaborative effort and sees Selyn Textiles working with USAID, TWCorp, Copenhagen designer Nikolaj Storm, and tech company Paper Tale, which is responsible for the blockchain technology that Selyn Textiles is building into its products, along with the support of many other collaborative partners who have helped Selyn Textiles realise its vision of fashion that uses tech to provide greater transparency to the value chain.
Selyn Textiles will achieve another milestone in July 2023 when it collaborates with Italian-Sri Lankan new-gen couturier and artist Andrea Brocca to take transparently responsible Sri Lankan handloom to the runways of Paris Haute Couture Week.