On a mission to revive a dying craft: AOD alumna Kasuni Rathnasuriya takes Sri Lankan artisanry to the world with KÛR Collection

Kasuni Rathnasuriya is the founder and design director of KÛR Collection – her eponymous fashion label that pays homage to the classic Sri Lankan beeralu/bobbin lace by incorporating it as key elements into the brand’s contemporary designs. Kasuni runs her successful sustainable brand from New York, working closely with the Southern artisanal community of Sri Lanka to revive the dying traditional craft of lace weaving.

The journey to KÛR Collection

Having graduated from the Academy of Design (AOD) with the Fashion & Textile Design programme back in 2007, Kasuni’s career has since taken on a visibly upward trajectory. In 2010, she decided to take a leap of faith and launch her own fashion label, KÛR Collection. In 2011, at the Sri Lanka Design Festival, Kasuni was awarded the British Council’s Young Creative Entrepreneur (YCE) Design and Fashion Award for KÛR Collective’s inaugural collection, and was the given the opportunity to pursue an internship at Victoria’s Secret PINK in New York.

Kasuni’s designs have since been showcased in New York Fashion Week, featured alongside titans of the fashion industry in Vogue, Marie Claire, and Harper’s Bazaar, and KÛR Collection now has a loyal customer-base from across the world.

The inspiration

“While I was still studying in AOD I knew that I wanted to bring something different to the industry, especially at a time where the local fashion landscape was inundated with just bridal and evening wear designers.” 

Timely then, was when Kasuni and her third year peers were taken on an educational excursion down South to learn from local artisan communities, encouraging them to forge a deeper connection with the country’s rich –but often unspoken of- heritage in design.

Kasuni is a firm believer that the DNA of Sri Lanka’s fashion heritage is minimalism and simplicity; lace details being a symbol of aristocracy. With each edit, KÛR Collection honours the individual lace components that define each piece, ensuring that these elements –and the communities, craftsmanship, and heritage behind them- remain an integral part of a new garment’s story, for this new phase in time.

Inspired by her own Southern roots, a design culture of “less is more”, and the traditional techniques of lace weaving in itself, Kasuni founded KÛR Collection with the aim to resuscitate a craft that was nearing extinction –and in turn support its women-led community- through contemporary designs that she would sell across the world.

The process

Kasuni produces two main collections a year -the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter edits, as the fashion calendar goes-, each a three month process from conception to production. Sustaining a boutique fashion line supply chain that involves two ends of the world is no easy feat, but Kasuni has come to master a seamless logistical process.

“Once I’ve conceptualized the designs for the collection, I work with sustainable Japanese yarn mills to create fabric that is exclusive to us. Once that has been shipped to Sri Lanka, my community of lace weavers work on the garment and incorporate the lace where required. Once the samples are ready I then handle the campaigns and photo shoots from here in New York.”

The process

Kasuni produces two main collections a year -the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter edits, as the fashion calendar goes-, each a three month process from conception to production. Sustaining a boutique fashion line supply chain that involves two ends of the world is no easy feat, but Kasuni has come to master a seamless logistical process.

“Once I’ve conceptualized the designs for the collection, I work with sustainable Japanese yarn mills to create fabric that is exclusive to us. Once that has been shipped to Sri Lanka, my community of lace weavers work on the garment and incorporate the lace where required. Once the samples are ready I then handle the campaigns and photo shoots from here in New York.”

To ensure that there is no wastage in her supply chain – as well as to reduce costs — Kasuni produces only a limited number of pieces, encourages pre-ordering, and also leaves room for made-to-order requests.

“People assume that sustainability in fashion is only about using recycled cotton, but it’s so much more than that,” she says. “It can also mean building a traceable supply chain, regulating production, preserving a centuries-old art form, and keeping the entire process as simple as possible.”

The counsel

With exposure to both, the fast-fashion industry, and her own model contributing to the circular economy, Kasuni has learned much from her 360 degree view of how the industry operates. Now having found meaning in her practice, she advises young design aspirants against taking a conservative, linear view of fashion. “Fashion as it stands today, is not just about clothing and runway collections. It’s an entire culture; a movement that is as fluid as it is many-layered, evolving over time and encapsulating the many elements that make up the world in its current phase.”

Studying Fashion Design at AOD

AOD offers aspiring fashion designers two distinctive programmes to choose from; each delving into starkly different aspects of the industry. While with the BA (Hons) Fashion & Textile Design programme students are encouraged to develop their own signature style with which to make a transformative mark in the world of fashion, the BA (Hons) Fashion Design & Marketing degree revolves around exploring fashion concepts, products, and promotions for future markets in the industry.

Both fashion programmes are accredited by the UK’s prestigious Northumbria University, with immersive curriculum taught by a diverse and inspiring faculty who come armed with international expertise. With its address at the Colombo Innovation Tower (CIT), students at AOD can also expect to learn from an inspiring like-minded community of creatives, while also benefiting from state-of-the-art facilities and an engaging learning environment; staying true to the university’s culture of design innovation alongside superior academic and developmental pedagogy.

With the BA (Hons) Fashion & Textile Design Programme – one of the most popular programmes at the academy- students are first familiarized with a diverse suite of fashion disciplines to both help hone their fashion interests, as well their confidence to finally establish and showcase their own signature brand of style. This course is a combination of tutorial guidance, project ‘crits’, lectures, competitions, live industrial projects, and placements, where students will get a hands-on education of the local and global fashion industry, through both expertise and portfolio.

With the BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Marketing, students get to engage in all aspects of fashion studies; from research into fashion markets and their customers, to fashion forecasting, fashion graphics, illustration, photographic styling and promotional techniques, as well as design realisation projects through pattern creation and garment construction. This programme provides as immersive exploration of fashion concepts, and products and promotions for future markets, with students emerging as well-informed and industry-savvy fashion marketers.

AOD invites Sri Lanka’s young fashion design aspirants to learn more about the university’s Fashion Design programmes, and how, like Kasuni, an inspiring success story can soon be theirs to tell. Live your design dream in Sri Lanka,in the UK or anywhere in the world, Complete your BA fully in Sri Lanka or UK 2+1 transfer programme or international placements. For more information, contact AOD on 0775727772, email info@aod.lk or walk in between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday – Colombo Innovation Tower, No 477, R A De Mel mawatha, Colombo 4 www.aod.lk