Interview with Peronie Stefel - Fashion entrepreneur behind the successful retail brand ‘Stefel’
Q: You've got a successful career as a designer with her own label. Where did this journey begin?
I was always creative, since I was a child. I studied at the Colombo International School, and even back then, I knew I wanted to do something creative even though I didn’t know it was fashion exactly. When I lived in Rome, I did a short course on art and design which was very basic but it made me realise that I liked fashion and textiles. I’m from a Sri Lankan-German background so I always wanted to come back to Sri Lanka and do something here and connect with the country- so this is when I joined the dots together and decided to study fashion in Sri Lanka, at AOD.
Q: Design is still among the lesser-known careers in Sri Lanka. So, not many people understand what designers do exactly. Can you describe your role, its day-to-day scope and what kind of clients you work with?
Since my brand is based on handcrafted prints, I spend a lot time in my studio in Kandy designing, making prints and giving creative guidance to the three artisans who carry out batik and water marbling techniques. I also manage my time between the Kandy studio and the manufacturing and finishing done in Colombo. Meanwhile, I also invest time into understanding my clients who are also predominantly from Colombo, have quite a different sense of style and appreciate what is handmade. I also work with corporate clients like the Galle Face Hotel which I designed the staff unifirms uniforms for, and events like Sri Lanka Design Festival and Colombo Fashion Week. It’s a hands-on, round-the-clock job which I just love.
Q: That's quite a challenging and rewarding job to have. How did your education prepare you for this?
I think my education at AOD laid down a solid foundation to do what I do today. From the way to work with low-tech artisan crafts to handling more technical fashion constructions such as swimwear, which I recently launched, I got a good understanding through AOD. I also learnt a lot about professional discipline from AOD. I’m always surprised at how the things I learnt at AOD few years back, still become useful to me in my work.
Q: What does it take to be a fashion entrepreneur?
I'm still learning quite a lot in the process. Being an entrepreneur, you always have to be updated and on top of trends, market situations etc. You have to have a serious passion to do what you do everyday, but also remember that it’s not just a hobby and that your work has to deliver commercially at the end of the day to keep the business running. Especially when you’re your own boss and there is no one else pushing you- you need to be disciplined and really commit to getting things done.
Q: What sort of exposure have you gained through AOD to support entrepreneurship?
Certain things at AOD really inspired us students, like the Sri Lanka Design Festival where we got to see the recognition that designers receive etc. Live projects where we got to work with artisans and engage with crafts and work with fashion manufacturers while still studying, really shaped my confidence to do that as a professional. At the same time, the school being headed by a strong female entrepreneur like Linda Speldewinde also gave us inspiration to go out there and do want we love.
Q: There are many young people out there who love creativity, 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?
Design is an area where there is so much room to do what you love, whether you want to start your own brand or work for a company. I must say, doing what you love doing every single day, is probably the most rewarding way to live your life.