AOD Alumni Shayani Alwis talks fashion business and education, reflects on her own brand Shay Int. and the fashion retail sphere in Sri Lanka
As a child, Shayani considered herself as always being artistic, and revealed that, in fact, her earlier plan was to become an architect. However, her mother who paid close attention to Shayani’s peculiar fashion shows that she put up at home, dropped by AOD to find out more information on the BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Textile degree. Even though Shayani was still carrying the vision of being an architect, just dipping her toes into the world of fashion made her realise that she was meant to be a fashion designer, and that her mom recognised that in her.
Reminiscing about her time at AOD, she emphasises on the knowledge and experience she received that allowed her to take her career into her own hands. ‘There was a great faculty at AOD who had a lot of knowledge, and weren’t holding back. Lecturers such as Stuart (Macleod) and Prabath (Samarasooriya) were very much dedicated to teaching us exactly how design process works. Even AOD’s Director Karen (Macleod), who wasn’t lecturing us, was very much involved with our education. They gave us a solid foundation and taught fashion design from scratch starting from conceptualisation, garment construction, pattern making, traditional crafts like Handloom, Batik and lace making as well as high tech garment manufacturing techniques and more. We also used to go on international study tours which let you get up close with designer fashion that changes your world. If you really think about, everything that was taught is in practice right now in my life’.
Shayani also dedicated herself to go above and beyond to learn the craft. During her studies at AOD, she was selected for an internship at MAS Linea Aqua where she stepped into the industry right after graduation, and gained her first industry experience. Equipped with the opportunities AOD provided and her drive, she also won the award for Individual Own Brand at the Mercedez-Benz Fashion and Apparel Awards. She knew she would always start her own brand, and that she was determined to make it work.
In 2013, she launched Shay Int. combining her creativity with international trends. Currently, Shay Int. is located at the junction of Duplication Road and Deal Place, and provides ample space to browse, try on clothes, and a variety of designs and styles to indulge in. It is an inviting space for the Sri Lankan woman who’s looking for elegant simplicity. With carefully picked designs and fabrics, Shayani is presenting a gateway between the Sri Lankan consumer and the global fashion arena. She states that she’s still learning about the industry, especially the side of fashion marketing;
‘Fashion marketing plays a huge role in this business. You have to know what you target audience is, what your customer needs, and what they are looking for. The industry is very competitive. When I first started Shay Int., there was not much of a competition. For someone joining now, they will face challenges that I didn’t have to. I think if you have your own unique talent, a clear vision, and if you think differently, then it might give you some space in this industry. Talking to people, meeting people, how to promote your brand, how to understand the market, and knowing why fashion is important. The Fashion Design & Marketing degree offered at AOD equips you with all this, and as much as you know about fashion design, it’s important that you know fashion marketing. If you want to start your own brand, fashion marketing plays a significant role, and you need to be ready for it.’
She also mentioned how when she first started that she had trouble finding the right people, the right suppliers, or the right crew; ‘Learning how to handle people was one of my main struggles. It was a learning a process. It’s still a learning process. I learnt how much location matters when you’re opening your own store. I was just 23 years old when I started off and being a really young person getting into the business of fashion was quite difficult.’ However, she’s currently thriving under the support of her parents, her sister, and her husband, and says that she dedicated all of her time to building her brand as she’s doing what she truly enjoys, and staying focused on what you want to achieve is how she got to where she is today.
To all aspiring fashion designers and fashion marketers studying at AOD or waiting to pursue their education in Fashion Marketing, Shayani says ‘learn, listen, and do it well. Recognise the opportunities that are available to you, and absorb everything’.