By Sashini Rodrigo
Fashion, like any form of art, has the power to influence society in many ways. It can instil or challenge opinions, express any concept or experience, and is bound only by the imagination of its creator. It can also be a vehicle for social change and it is in this spirit that designer Amilani Perera embarked on her latest bold and empowering collection titled Unbreakable, which is in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund in Sri Lanka (UNFPA) – the United Nation’s sexual and reproductive health agency that is working on sexual and gender-based violence.
Her collection breaks new ground for the brand as Amilani makes her first political statement through her designs. “Recently, the brand has become a voice for women suffering from violence in silence. This is an issue I’m deeply passionate about,” Amilani shared. Working with UNFPA, her brand is helping to uplift and empower abused women in Sri Lanka by involving survivors of violence in product development. The partnership goes beyond just the collection as Amilani plans to engage with the Women’s Development Centre in Kandy to provide mentoring programmes.
“Women engage in the apparel industry in all aspects – from designing, producing, modelling and beyond. It is therefore important to ensure these women are treated equally in their chosen field of employment,” a representative for the UNFPA tells us. Due to the potential of the fashion world to be a strong voice for the voiceless, the partnership between UNFPA and Amilani is exactly the kind of direct progressive action that supports the creation of a responsible fashion market by Colombo Fashion Week (CFW).
“The storyline behind the collection focuses on how a survivor of violence can rise up and be empowered despite her dark times. She is a fighter. Women are unbreakable,” Amilani said.
Her passion for fashion and her determination to become a designer was always a part of her. She graduated in May 2009 with a BA(Hons) Fashion Design and Textiles degree from LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore, and this gave her valuable fashion technical and cultural knowledge.
Upon her return to Sri Lanka, Amilani began her career as a designer at MAS Holdings for amanté, then as a design consultant for HANES at Arvind Life Style Brands in India. She also obtained her Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales, UK. “The industry experience and academic background I received before I launched my brand was a great stepping stone for my career, equipping me with confidence and know-how of the fashion business,” she said.
Amilani took this wealth of experience and launched her own eponymous ready-to-wear brand, which focused on delivering ‘exotic luxury fashion’. Since its inception in 2013, the label has consecutively showcased at CFW while also branching out internationally.
Amilani was the only Sri Lankan brand to be featured at the Asian Designer Week 2016 in New Delhi, India, while also showcasing their Spring Summer ‘17 Collection at the Sri Lanka Fashion Week in New York. The brand was also selected as the official designer for the Airport & Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka.
At the heart of Amilani’s many achievements in the industry is her passion for true sustainability and societal empowerment. Even before this year’s CFW theme of Responsibility in Fashion, she had incorporated waste materials into her fashion accessory line for the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards in 2012 (of which she was a finalist) and launched her signature metal clutch bag line which was designed and developed through waste metals at the Fashion and Apparel Awards in 2013.
She has also raised awareness on elephant conservation in Sri Lanka by using vegan leather and inspiration from the ‘Gajaga vannama’ for her collection at the 2016 Asian Designer Week. “It’s our responsibility as human beings to be sustainable,” she explained.
Amilani further shared that when designing this year’s collection, it was important to her that it was in line with international standards in addressing this sensitive topic of sexual violence. “I wanted it to have that credibility and respect as this is an issue that we must speak about louder,” she said. This eventually led to her collaboration with UNFPA.
Unbreakable is a display of intense emotions brought to life through a meaningful colour palette, with hand paintings by Amilani transformed into prints on lush dyed silk ombrés. The deep burgundy represents fear and abuse, contrasted by the mint greens and shades of blush representing the healing process, with the pieces put together by survivors of violence.
“The best way for me to express myself is through my designs,” Amilani said. “It is my outlet and I know that it can help to make social change for the better. This collection is on behalf of the lives of all women who suffer in silence.”
She acknowledged that “none of this would have been possible if not for the support and inspiration from the powerhouse women at UNFPA” and is grateful to the team for realising her showstopper on the day of the launch. She is further grateful to the bold advocate for this issue, Mrs. World 2020 Caroline Jurie, and to Colombo Fashion Week for giving her the platform to make it happen.
Story reproduced from The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) and photos courtesy of Colombo Fashion Week. Access the original story here.