Designer Sajee Mendes Seneviratne on her latest collection, brand, and journey in fashion
Sajee Mendes Seneviratne began her career in design close to a decade ago in 2014. Prior to this, she studied fashion and textile design at the Academy of Design (AOD) for three years. During her time at AOD, she discovered the potential of working with Sri Lankan artisan crafts, batik, and handloom.
“This exposure led me to choose the path of textile design as a career to pursue, which built the foundation for Mendes Ceylon,” Seneviratne said. Her collections have been featured on runways like the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week 2022, and her work promises to be minimal, modern, and timeless pieces for a conscious wardrobe.
The Daily Morning Brunch reached out to Seneviratne to learn more about her work in design and what she has planned for Mendes Ceylon.
How did you get into fashion and textile designing? What drew you to this field?
I always enjoyed designing and creating new things. For as long as I can remember, it was clear to me that I did not want to do an 8-5 job. My childhood dream was to study something creative and hence it was natural for me to have chosen fashion design for my higher studies. As my studies at AOD progressed, my career path became clearer and clearer to me.
What’s it like being a designer in Sri Lanka, especially in terms of exposure and opportunity?
Being a designer in a relatively small nation like Sri Lanka comes with its own challenges. It is easy to get recognised by an audience and for the word to spread since the community is small. However, when it comes to scaling a business, it can be a challenge. Sri Lanka still has a long way to go in the context of understanding and appreciating the time and effort a designer puts into gaining skills and creating. This, coupled with the market being small, is a challenge in creating a designer brand.
Mendes Ceylon is minimalist, modern, and timeless. Tell us more about the brand.
Mendes Ceylon was founded in 2018. My goal at the time was to fill the gap in the market for unique chic silhouettes that signifies artisan heritage values. The style has always been chic and timeless, designed for a vibrant and busy woman who has an eventful daily schedule.
In 2020, during the pandemic, Mendes Ceylon shifted its focus from just being a designer label to becoming more conscious and taking a more sustainable path. Since then, the brand’s key focus is on building a conscious wardrobe and educating our customers to buy and use consciously. Simultaneously, the designs are more focused on a seasonless approach, moving away from the concept of following trends. We produce limited quantities and keep our collections to 3-4 seasons per year for women’s ready-to-wear clothing.
Mendes Ceylon honours three key brand values:
1. Encouraging our customers to go for a conscious wardrobe
2. Using vegan textiles: We don’t use any fabrics that are sourced using animal fibre or harming animals, such as wool, leather, and silk
3. We produce clothing that is designed and made in Sri Lanka, contributing to the longevity of Sri Lanka’s craft industry, and creating work opportunities for local artisans
Do you have anything exciting lined up for the brand?
In the past two years, like most businesses, we faced many challenges and didn’t end up producing many new collections, due to local and global issues that were ongoing. This year we have many exciting things lined up, including a menswear collection that is in the works.
You recently launched a new collection. Can you share more details about it?
We launched our latest collection “Equilibrium” at FMLK Colombo 3. This collection premiered at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week 2022 Sri Lankan Runways in December 2022. We are retailing the show pieces, and in addition, we have done a derivative of the same runway collection silhouettes – less exaggerated and more wearable, in different colourways.
What are some of the unique features of this collection?
The collection is very much relevant today. The silhouettes are easy with voluminous details but all with a touch of androgyny inspired by the 60s. The collection is on the dramatic side; however, it is sophisticated for our customers to style with ease throughout the day and week. Tulle sleeve details, contrasting batik textile, and high-tech fabric incorporations are some of the details we have brought into the collection, which are all very unique to Mendes Ceylon.
What were the inspirations behind the pieces?
This collection was a response to the dark times we experienced in the last two years. This collection symbolises balance; almost an emotional response to how we evolve as brands and individuals through darkness into light and better times – the resilience within us, finding a state of equilibrium through the chaos, and the ability to bounce back even after the most difficult times. The key motif when designing this collection was the blooming Kadupul flower (Queen of the Night), which depicts the light in us, blooming through the darkness, mysterious and enchanted.
Any challenges that came up while designing them?
One key value we at Mendes Ceylon stand for is empowering local artisans; however, this comes with its own challenges. Throughout all our collections, timelines have always been a challenge and delivering on time with limitations due to the nature of the craft.
The most recent challenge we are facing currently is the economic situation in Sri Lanka – inflation and the subsequent impact of the cost of production.
Where can people find your latest collection?
We are retailing our new collection at FMLK, both at their retail store and online. In addition, we are also retailing our other collections at the ODEL outlet at One Galle Face Mall.
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