Meet fashion designer Sajee Mendes, who followed her dream to take on the business of fashion
Fashion constantly keeps reinventing itself with cultural and social changes happening at a rapid pace. It no longer has boundaries and it is rather a reflection of the person that advocates it. The apparel industry in Sri Lanka is the most dynamic and significant contributor to the country’s economy and it is home to an all-encompassing eco system of design, production, distribution and retailing. AOD has been at the forefront of the fashion movement in Sri Lanka and is a catalyst for design-led innovation in South Asia initiating changes on an international level which impacts young talent, traditional craft, design technology and entrepreneurship. In the hub of it all is the Sri Lankan designer, educated and nurtured to live up to their potential and create change in the industry. Sajee Mendes is one such designer who believes in ‘Designed and Made in Sri Lanka’ and is taking local fashion to new heights.
Q: Where did your interest in fashion stem from?
I went to Lindsay Girls' School - Colombo and even then, I had a passion for the fashion industry and it stemmed from seeing my father who worked in the apparel industry. I had a keen interest in finding my own place in this industry, so I knew I had to choose a path that involved constantly challenging myself with new and creative thinking and that would inspire me everyday instead of a typical 9-5 job. So, after I was done with my ALs, I searched for a path that inspired me and challenged me- this was when I found AOD through a feature on a newspaper- I knew right away that it was the gateway to the future I was looking for.
Q: How has AOD been a part of your successful career in fashion?
From day one AOD directed us with a clear vision so that each of us knew exactly where we should aim to be. For me, the fact that we could study here in Colombo to get an international UK degree, meant that I was prepped with a good understanding of what works for a global audience. The exposure we got while being educated by a global faculty of lecturers also trained me to research worldwide trends and be globally aware while being based in Sri Lanka. My favourite experiences were our study tours exploring craft villages and getting inspiration from all over the world. Our undergrad experiments with low-tech heritage crafts with traditional artisans and high-tech industrial textile manipulation with AOD’s apparel industry partners inspired me about a new future for handloom. Finally, the experience of showcasing our talent at international level fashion shows with Sri Lanka Design festival and Mercedes - Benz Fashion Week presented by AOD, has been amazing and pushed me to challenge my work to reach real global standards.
Q: You recently launched your own brand ‘MENDES CEYLON’. What’s the story behind the brand?
Inspiration for my brand MENDES is from old-world Ceylonese culture. Art décor, temple interiors, Dutch colonial architecture and old Ceylonese clothing was the instigator of the whole concept behind the brand. The MENDES name itself is rooted in German/ Portuguese origin and suited the brand well. The use if heritage crafts and textile in modern silhouettes is a key factor in the brand’s personality. We create a unique, fusion style statement which mixes heritage textiles with industrial fabrics. MENDES silhouettes has simple tailoring with its own distinctive detailing, a minimal colour palette and sophisticated style. It’s a brand for any occasion at any time of day. Our new collection is retailing worldwide on fashionmarket.lk and is also available at 33S phygital store.
Q: What inspires you to keep doing what you are doing?
Having a career in fashion design is what I always dreamt of and it’s a new kind of satisfaction in waking up every day to do what I love. Satisfying customers and keeping them happy is a challenging job and this is what keeps me going to keep creating new designs and keep up with this fast moving industry. Fashion changes every day and being in touch with global trends keeps me inspired to come up with innovative designs.
Q: What is your advice to those who want a career in design?
There is a slight misconception about working in design among some but I’ve seen my father working in the apparel industry and knew this business and I grew up seeing how secure and serious this industry is and when I joined AOD they made sure we understood how great this could be as a career. So, you should always seek the path that could get you to your dreams, always dream big and don't let anyone let you choose what your future career should be for you. Keep your mind open and go for it. Live out of the box and always keep challenging yourself!