AOD takes Local design Talent global again!

A success story of a visionary design grad! Sustainable fashion designer Ruwanthi Gajadeera showcased her collection at Graduate Fashion Week - London

The Academy of Design (AOD) has added yet another accolade to its portfolio, following the success of BA Fashion & Textile Design graduate Ruwanthi Gajadeera at London Fashion Week 2021. Ruwanthi carved for herself a top spot as 1st runner up for her sustainability-themed designs, when put up against 15 strong international contenders at the illustrious design showcase’s Graduate Fashion Week held last week.

With her winning collection 'kǣli', Ruwanthi sought to incorporate her Sri Lankan heritage and the many sustainable mechanisms of ancient Sri Lankan culture, to support slow fashion and produce eco-friendly attire. Having designed under four key principles (low-impact, low-waste, longevity, and recyclability), Ruwanthi’s oeuvre allowed her to follow through with her vision of exploring sustainable fashion avenues, with the intent to eternalise these garments to be passed down from generation to generation.

“The sustainable catwalk collection of Ruwanthi Gajadeera shown at the 30th anniversary of Graduate Fashion Week in London, flew the national Sri Lankan flag for the quality artisan skills practised on the island, and achieved a well-deserved position of first runner up in the International Award category,” said Douglas MacLennan, Chairperson Graduate Fashion Foundation London, commenting on Ruwanthie’s win.

Owing to its nearly decade-long partnership with Graduate Fashion Week, AOD has had a strong presence at London Fashion Week every year; allowing nominated students from its BA Fashion & Textile Design program to benefit from the much sought-after opportunity to show among the world’s finest fashion schools from Paris, New York, Milan, and other emerging fashion destinations. The world’s largest showcase of undergraduate fashion talent attracts a powerful audience of world-renowned designers, fashion editors, critics, and global media, helping graduate fashion innovators launch their brands to a global audience.

Faced with the many constraints of the ongoing pandemic however, the highly-anticipated annual event had to celebrate its 30th edition under unusual circumstances. This year, Graduate Fashion Week was re-launched as a virtual exhibition, featuring live-streamed runway shows, online industry talks, design exhibitions and a digital portfolio platform; though still attended by the largest industry players, and yet again providing an unmatchable opportunity for final year students to impress potential employers.

This came as an added challenge to participating universities, and many struggled to adapt to this new layout. AOD however, having already implemented virtual lectures, showcases, and exhibitions into its own format, was able to easily overcome these stumbling blocks to give Ruwanthi’s talent it's due.

“Putting a collection together to showcase for an international competition is the greatest honour but also the biggest nightmare for any design student,” said Ruwanthi of her experience. “But aside from arming me with valuable learning and experience, and encouraging me to experiment boldly with my designs, AOD also prepared me to tackle design challenges such as these.”

“Karen MacLeod, my mentor and lecturer, took time off her own vacation to help me to curate my ideas into a collection, and Linda too dedicated her time to personally mentor me throughout the entire process, proving that even during a pandemic “Design Never Stop” at AOD.”  

“It was a privilege of a lifetime to represent Sri Lanka and showcase my collection at Graduate Fashion Week,” she added. “Truly one of the most unforgettable moments of my life.”

This year, Sri Lanka’s most respected apparel manufacturer, the Hirdaramani Group, came on board as an industry partner to sponsor Ruwanthi’s collection for the global stage. United in their vision of empowering next generation talent, both AOD and Hirdaramani were able to support Ruwanth’s concept of incorporating both zero-waste, low-impact materials and low tech practices (handloom, lacework, tie dye, etc.) into her designs, with the help of state-of-the-art textile technology and techniques.

“At Hirdaramani Discovery Lab (HDL), we are committed to sustainable product innovation and design,” said Piyumi Perera, Head of Design at the Hirdaramani Group.  “Annually, we engage with academia to support graduate collections, and this year we are both thrilled and proud to have been selected to sponsor AOD’s Ruwanthie Gajadeera’s beautiful 'kǣli' collection out of HDL.”

“Ruwanthi’s collection featured intriguing patternmaking and required cutting-edge washing techniques, which HDL supported her with to experiment and produce,” she added. “The global fashion industry is steadily moving towards more circular and sustainable fashion products, so it is great to see young talent blend traditional artistry with new sustainable technology to create authentic fashion trends out of Sri Lanka.”

As Sri Lanka's design ecosystem looks to reinvent itself to meet a more sustainability-tuned future, AOD primes its students to build for themselves responsible brands that aim to make positive changes in the industry, while also opening up opportunities to project emerging young local talent onto a global stage.

The academy’s award-winning 3-year BA (Hons) Fashion & Textile Design program -accredited with the UK’s Northumbria University-, allows students to investigate and experiment with a wide range of fashion disciplines, until they are ready to carve out their own niche and signature style, to be created, developed, and produced into individual collections for the graduate fashion show.

World-class design education has long been synonymous with AOD. With its experienced and dedicated global faculty, an address at the country’s most prestigious innovation space (Colombo Innovation Tower), regional and international industry connections, access to global design conferences and showcases, and a highly successful and well-placed alumni network, all students stand to benefit immensely from the many doors that open up on having enrolled at one of the university’s programs.