An interview with Fashion Designer and AOD alumni, Isuru Liyange, on building a successful career in fashion design.
A career in Fashion Design comes with many challenges as it is a creatively-fueled, competitive industry in which you are as good as your next big idea. It is a multi-faceted profession which connects people and inspires them to embrace their true selves. Isuru Liyanage touches on these unique qualities in his career as a Fashion Designer who creates a complete fashion experience for the wearer.
You've got a successful career as a fashion designer and design stylist. Where did this interest begin?
I love the power of clothing and the transformative quality of dressing up. I grew up in Matara and schooled at St. Thomas’ Boys College. Studying Art as a subject helped me train my eye to look at things in a creative way. Even though I was highly interested in Art I did not want to become a painter or an artist, I wanted to use my skills in a way which brought out my creative side even more. This was when I discovered Fashion Design. There wasn’t really a place where I could pursue this close to home as it was not a very popular career choice back there and that is when I moved to Colombo to join AOD.
Joining AOD changed my whole life. The culture and the educational background offered at AOD were so different from what I was used to and the students had so much talent and dedication which further cemented the fact that Fashion Design was the right path for me. The Fashion Design Degree at AOD was very hands on and the International exposure I got while studying such as showcasing my collections twice in UK – once at London Fashion week AW 2014 International Fashion Showcase Future Sustainable Fashion Exhibition has made a major impact on inspiring me and improving my work.
Why do you think fashion and design styling are important to people and their image?
A great outfit gives confidence and pride to the wearer. It also improves their self image. You dress and groom your body, you get to choose what to express and what to mask. It’s a lot of power. It allows you to establish your uniqueness and help you decide which aspects of your inner life you’d like to highlight and share and reminds you that you can control how you feel about yourself and that’s powerful stuff.
Design and styling are both quite uncommon careers in Sri Lanka. This also means the demand for such professionals is extremely high. Can you describe your role, its scope and what kind of clients you work with?
I am currently heading the design team at fashionmarket.lk and also working as a design stylist. It is quite a challenging role because you constantly have to come up with creative ideas. I believe when you're a designer your job does not stop after designing a garment, design is only a part of a long process. I get involved with production, work closely with the textile department, pattern makers, directing photo shoots and finally help the sales and marketing team to make it a commercially successful collection.
The marketing aspect of fashion design is a big area in my role for FM. We create looks which customers can directly relate to their personalities. It's a huge challenge and I believe that's something really unique we as a team have succeeded in doing.
That's quite a serious role to have. How did your education prepare you for this?
The partnership AOD has with Northumbria University, one of the top design schools in the world gives your certificate global recognition. We had a great team of academic staff and a well-structured syllabus. We got the best international exposure even though we studied here in Sri Lanka as the lecturers both international and local have worked with many top international brands. AOD created a huge impact in design through education with the continuous support from the local industry which benefits students in many ways.
So, is design education a must for a designer? If so, why?
I believe getting a university education might be the best way to go if you're serious about a career in the industry. The Fashion Design & Textiles Degree as well as the Fashion Marketing Degree at AOD gives you historical and contextual knowledge that other routes into the industry might not provide. Fashion Marketing specially aims to create Fashion Brands to give insight to fashion trends, Digital Fashion, E commerce and all the areas a fashion business would need to build a brand.
To be successful as a fashion designer, it helps to have formal training. You have to know fabrics, and you have to know enough about construction to be able to communicate what you want. There’s a lot of technical knowledge involved in designing.
There are many young people out there who love creative work, design etc. but are afraid to choose it as a career since it's traditionally not seen as a 'serious' role. Same goes for parents who have concerns in allowing their children to choose creative careers. What would you say to them?
Fashion is serious business just like any other industry in the world. The Sri Lankan Fashion Industry used to be mainly focused on producing export-oriented clothing but now the local apparel industry has come a long way in catering to the local customer and focusing on local craft and style.
Events like SLDF and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Runways have become top fashion events in South Asia and are huge platforms for local emerging designers to showcase their work to industry experts from high-end international brands and buyers from all over the world. Sri Lanka stands strong as one of the premier fashion and apparel outsourcing hubs in the world. This gives young, aspiring fashion designers many opportunities to master the necessary skills and become a true success.