LAN, FORD Foundation support AOD’s Young Creative Entrepreneurs through DFSD

DFSD (Design for Sustainable Development) - New Cohort of Impact Driven Design projects initiated providing new opportunities for AOD Students 


Announcing a new collaboration under their long-standing partnership with Lanka Angel Network to develop impact driven entrepreneurs, AOD strengthens an area it sees as a core of its future for the success of its Design alumni being future proof. Through The Lankan Angel Network (LAN) landmark grant agreement signed earlier this year with the Ford Foundation to catalyze the growth of Sri Lanka’s startup ecosystem, DFSD (Design for sustainable development) Foundation in partnership with AOD got the opportunity as one of LANs long-term ecosystem partners for creative entrepreneurship in the fashion & design category to support more of its graduates impact driven ventures, using design to truly make a difference. 


About DFSD

Sri Lanka’s Design for Sustainable Development Foundation (DFSD) is a non-profit organization established by AOD (the Academy of Design), Colombo’s premier design institute, in 2011.
DFSD uses design-led strategies to promote sustainable development in the craft sector. This includes teaming top designers with skilled crafts people to foster design innovation. DFSD has a strong focus on sound environmental practices, women’s empowerment and promoting heritage skills.

The partnership is set to launch 30  AOD creative social entrepreneur projects. The project challenges AOD designers taking part to build their collections around sustainable, innovative initiatives, breaking moulds and maximising creative output. Tharshana Wijesinghe, being one of the first. Tharshana shares his journey here and what this new project means.


Working with Handloom Artisans 

Tharshana Wijesinghe is a name synonymous with intricate hand drawn designs etched on to fabric, paper, and even as body paint. Working as a fashion/textile designer, stylist, and a fashion illustrator, Tharshana specializes in unique print making and handmade fabrics and has launched his very own brand. The purpose of building this brand is to connect his skill to support handloom artisans while scaling up his business diversifying the handloom products. He further wants to create more work opportunities to grass-root level by training few more artists to work on his hand drawn illustrations & materials and a percentage of all income will be also contributed for DFSD for artisan further development.


The AOD Experience

Tharshana has always wanted to create. With the local school system not being encouraging enough, he looked for a place where he and his creativity could feel like home. Emphasizing on his extremely understanding and supportive parents, they encouraged him to join a design school after his O/L’s. Since then, he looked for a place he could feel like he belongs and found it at AOD. He joined AOD just as he finished A/Ls, and the rest is history.


Reflecting on the many resources, tools, skills, and expertise lecturers accessible at AOD, he stated; ‘My experience at AOD was nothing short of amazing. For the first time I felt like I belonged. The lecturers were very knowledgeable and encouraged us going out of the box and really expressing ourselves to the fullest extent that our creativity allowed us to. We were given the technical knowledge in terms of construction and patternmaking.’  

He also commented on the unique knowledge and experience he gained during AOD; ‘Creating a garment wasn’t just about construction it meant connecting emotionally, going out of our way to work with traditional crafts, meeting artisans from out of Colombo. It wasn’t just learning it but also living an experience. We got the opportunity to be part of fashion events and really see how everything came to life on the runway while at the same time learning what it was like behind the stage of a fashion show.’

Life after AOD

After his graduation, keen to get some industry experience, he was offered a job by one of the leading garment companies, Hirdaramani Garments, placed by AOD. He worked with international brands, and got the significant opportunity to brush up his skills and to be exposed to the industry methods.

Tharshana continued.....

‘After working at Hirdaramani, I left to start my own brand as I wanted to fulfil my goal of sharing art and to see people wearing what I create. I launched my first RTW collection in December 2018 at Mercedes-Benz fashion week Sri Lanka. It was truly a turning point in my career. The Mercedes platform gave me the exposure and the chance to collaborate with exciting brands. After the show we started retailing our first collection with Urban Island. We are still with Urban Island and the response has been overwhelming.’


Tharshana is currently focused on his brand, TharshanaWijesinghe, while still working on personal projects and collaborations. Since launching his brand at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Tharshana has been retailing at Urban Island, Colombo, where his Mythical and Whimsical collections have been a main stay. The main theme of these collections being a combination of Sri Lankan grown flowers and incorporation of his own creations of mythical animals.

Tharshana is also thrilled to announce the launch of his brand’s website (available at, a goal from a year ago which is being realized even through the many challenges faced this year.

... and Speaking of the Future.

‘I am so excited to be able to achieve my goal of launching a website this year. Right now we are focusing on island wide delivery, but I think our next goal would be taking the brand to an international stage and for all the exciting collaborations that are to come. Particularly looking forward to the opportunity to partner up with LAN,FORD foundation to promote Sustainablity and using design to truly make a difference.

All that said, I also want to just point out that I will continue to draw inspiration from our beautiful island paradise and do all that I can to bring recognition to our own native culture and traditions. If possible, I’d also like to encourage all designers from Sri Lanka to stay true to their roots now more than ever.’

Congratulating the first set of entrepreneurs of the project, Prajeeth Balasubramaniam, Founder of LAN / Managing Partner of BOVCapital, shared "We are extremely delighted at LAN to see the implementation of the program even with barriers the pandemic posed, and how there is so much potential with the work of Ford Foundation, who has a long history of working to advance innovation, fairness, opportunity, and human dignity around the world, to move forward in this area. Since the inception of LAN, one of our goals have been to reduce inequality via the empowerment of entrepreneurs. I am happy to note that a global organization such as the Ford Foundation, recognized our vision and have partnered with us to accelerate the process via the eight programs planned for year 2020/21

AOD is fortunate to be a partner for this project and it is a testament to the alignment of values between LAN and its partners such as AOD and Ford Foundation, focused on empowering startups, spurring innovation across every level of industry and promoting equality and shared growth.

"With this partnership, we hope to uplift and empower young entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams whilst promoting sustainable development and creating an impact in Sri Lanka" said Mano Sekaram, Chairman of LAN.

The Ford Foundation is an independent, non-profit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years, it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement.

LAN is a platform for angel and private investors, who invest in high-growth, early-stage Sri Lankan ventures, with the aim of creating an impact by reducing inequality.

AOD, as Sri Lanka's pioneering Design Education institute has always had entrepreneurship as a core part of its DNA, launching many designers such as Lonali, Nithya, Amesh, Canvas Design Studio, to name a few.