- Designer Sharmini Seneviratne on building a longstanding career in fashion
By Venessa Anthony
Sharmini Seneviratne discovered her eye for the glamorous world of fashion at quite a young age. Growing up, watching her mother work as a seamstress, she was in awe of the way her mother could take a plain cloth and turn it into an entire outfit. Obviously, watching her mother is where she found her inspiration to follow in her footsteps and start her own fashion label – Silk Wraps.
The Morning Brunch reached out to Sharmini on her career in design and her journey. Here’s what she had to say.
What inspired your entrance into the fashion industry?
As a child, I used to cut up my mother’s sarees and use them to dress up my dolls. That’s how crazy I was about fashion. My mother was a very fashionable lady and to date, is my biggest fashion inspiration.
After I finished school, I was employed at Air Lanka as a flight stewardess. This was certainly the stepping stone for my fashion career as seeing all the dazzling fashion capitals of the world heightened my interest in fashion, and was the most exciting part of my time as an air hostess.
Once being around all these fashion destinations left its imprint on me, I looked at the world with new eyes, quit flying and enrolled myself at St. Martins Art and Fashion College in London.
Tell us about Silk Wraps and how it came about.
It all began with just one machine and merely two staff members. I would purchase raw silks, which, at the time, were in huge demand for evening wear and gowns. When I began Silk Wraps in the 90s, there was hardly anywhere I could source high quality silk in Sri Lanka, so I resorted to importing from Thailand. Once I established the brand, it was the next new thing at the time, so there was a massive demand for my products.
What was it like keeping up to date on the ever changing fashion industry back then?
Silk Wraps was one of the first designer labels in Sri Lanka during an era of no fashion magazines or social media. If you wanted to keep up with modern trends, or to find out what’s hot and what’s not, you had no choice but to refer to a newspaper or magazine to stay up to date, or watch local television.
Back then, and even now, I track all the fashion trends in the world, to ensure that I am up to date, and can highlight them in my designs.
What would you name as the highlight of your career?
Oh, it was certainly designing for renowned star Latoya Jackson, Michael Jackson’s sister. This opportunity arose in 1996, which was when MJ was all the rage too, so it was an unforgettable and exciting moment. It was quite cool how it happened too – Latoya spotted one of my creations while she was visiting Sri Lanka and made an inquiry about its designer. Once I heard this, I immediately set up a meeting with Latoya and created a two-piece Lycra bikini costume adorned with white strands of pearls that covered the entire outfit. As exciting as it was, it was also incredibly stressful – I had to create this bikini in less than 24 hours! It was very hectic, but I came through just in time for her performance the next day.
Aside from that, I also had the honour of designing for fashion shows in major fashion capitals, such as Tokyo, Bangalore, Oman, Maldives, and London, with the help of Sri Lankan models.
Most recently, I did some designs for Beauty Queen Chula’s model school graduation as well.
Where do you draw inspiration from, for your designs?
I have a love for travel, aside from fashion, of course. I pop by Paris, Milan, Singapore, and London quite often, since I use them for inspiration. I also tend to mix my imagination to blend with the weather and culture of whatever country I’m in.
How did you fare with the challenges of the last few years?
During the pandemic, I couldn’t actively participate in the fashion industry, as there was almost no demand for clothes. The year 2020 was just awful; I had nothing on my mind. I was in no mood for creativity. With the economic crisis as well, there hasn’t been much happening either in the fashion industry.
Sourcing fabrics from abroad is a nightmare because of all the restrictions – it’s certainly nothing like before, the import of fabrics and accessories is practically at a standstill. Nevertheless, there were a few events that took place – now, it seems things are slowly returning to normal after Covid-19. However, we still need to be careful even with the machinery we use, as sourcing parts, if they were to break, is also next to impossible.
Do you have any advice to share with aspiring fashion designers?
In anything you do, whether fashion or any other field, you have to be very original as a creator, and come up with your own ideas and inspiration. Only then will your work be recognised and accepted by all with love and affection.
Do you have anything coming up for the year?
This year, I have been concentrating a lot on working with Coca-Cola in the Maldives. I’ve been doing some corporate designs for them. I’m also leaving for Europe next January to work with NEXT corporate.