Designer 1-2-1: Sarah Deen Ismail

Oct 26 2021. views 430

Creating a buzz amongst the island’s fashion savants Sarah Ismail’s brand fusion14 is growing in popularity. Starting off on a small scale fusion14 initially founded by Sarah’s mother has grown exponentially and she has now branched into soft furnishings too. Having learnt the art of batik Sarah runs her own workshop creating her batiks in various hues and designs. In operation for over 15 years, it is only now that the brand has come into its own with an ever-increasing number of devoted fans.

What sparked your interest in fashion design?

Having grown up with an exposure to fashion, I was always drawn to create clothing. I would accompany my mother, the founder of fusion14, frequently on purchasing trips overseas and was able to gain a wealth of knowledge from those experiences and different cultures. Those experiences have influenced my style and design till today. I’m extremely lucky to have been nurtured in that kind of environment.

What made you take fashion more seriously?

Having founded ‘Honey Pot’, a premier ladies waxing salon in Colombo, at the age of 21 alongside my sister and mum, once we were able to get things running smoothly, I was able to give more attention to fusion14. I handle a more back-end role in this business so I was able to balance both. From a boutique that would primarily purchase goods from different corners of the world, and then resell them; once I stepped in we began to manufacture and create our own pieces. The motivation to take it more seriously was first, the demand for our clothing and of course the joy and passion it ignited in me whilst creating my pieces.

Are you self-taught?

I’m self-taught in every sense of the word, I had the two best mentors to learn from in my experience. First - my mother, I was taught every angle I needed to know to run a business, from selecting fabrics, knowledge of presenting, marketing it and sales.  My core values of business and running a clothing brand comes through her wealth of experience of knowledge and having studied business management and marketing for my undergraduate studies, this helped me too. Mrs Saratha Vignarajah of Women Enterprises, was my mentor in teaching me everything I needed to learn in the manufacturing area of garments, down to the neatness of a seam, along with many technical terms I needed to learn in creating a pattern for garments overall. These two powerhouses, strong and intelligent women have paved the way forward for my career in design, and have indeed set extremely strong roots within me.

How has your work evolved?

At 5 years old, my first ever class, was Art Class with Mrs Latifa Ismail - and my love for art, colour, painting. The additive calmness art is able to create within you while making art began from my early years. At 16 years old, my first project was to create cropped tops out of stretch fabric. I mostly did this to make extra pocket money at the time. I managed to sell every piece in our store which was a BIG win for me! There on, I was drawn to make tops in tie and dye and those sold out too. This was definitely a motivator for me. I had to continue my studies so fashion was on the back burner for a while. I would still indulge in batik classes over the weekend at 17 at the Janakala Kendra in Rajagiriya under the supervision of Kolvin Sir, and was able to learn everything I needed to know about the process of batik. My work has since evolved into creating pieces in batik, tie dye, and many other techniques. Although I feel I’m still in my early days - I have already come a long way in terms of the evolution of my sense of design and clothing. I am blessed to work with extremely talented, and skilled women who are able to breathe life into my ideas. We create clothing with different varieties of cottons and silk. We create our own batik prints and manage everything in-house.

What kind of clothing do you avoid?

The only kind of clothing I would avoid is active-wear, men's and swimwear, as I feel those aren’t areas of interest to me.

Where do you look for creative inspiration?

 Nature, travel, my childhood and everyday life!

Describe your latest collection

For the new edit - I’ve used a different technique for the batik prints with a combination of our signature styles and a few new silhouettes; this time around. I’m excited to see how responsive my clientele would be to them. I’ve stuck to earthy tones, and repetitive prints in order to create something new and fun to this edit. I’ve used primarily cottons and a few silks that can be worn during the day and as loungewear.

What are your sustainability credentials?

With the expansion of our new workshop, which would give us more space - I intend on diving deeper into our excess waste material and how we could maximise usage out of it. As a policy, although we have no choice but to import certain fabrics, we still use excess factory fabrics - and they really are rare gems and add to the unique character of our garments. We also have a circular system to our batik section as well, so there is minimum wastage from start to finish. Currently we have an entire line of accessories, homeware, gift items and even books that we create out of excess fabrics. It’s truly fascinating and exciting when you realise the scope of what you could create with a sustainable mindset.

What are you currently fascinated by?

Currently whilst preparing for the season with a lot of hope despite everything that is going on with the pandemic - we have decided to go through with our plans for expansion so that is my top priority at the moment. This would be a big stepping stone for us in terms of growth for the brand.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned?

No matter what curve balls come your way. Stay true to yourself and PERSEVERE.

What is your motto?

“Faith, gratitude, and strength moves mountains.” It isn’t easy to run your own brand - you’re faced with many challenges and it’s easy to give up. It’s important to constantly check-in with yourself and align with the bigger picture in mind.

Who are the designers you’re currently inspired by?

At the moment, I’m currently in awe of artistes James Turrell and Tuco Amalfi.

How does the power of social media aid your business?

Social media holds immense power in getting your brand out there and known not just locally but on a global scale too - I personally feel fusion14 is somewhat a hidden gem and we are lucky to have built a loyal clientele over the years locally and internationally but this is something that brands would need to consistently work through in order to stay current.

Favourite part about being a designer?

The joy of seeing the evolution of a piece of fabric being transformed into something that stems from a thought or feeling and finally being worn by people. It gives me and my team great honour and satisfaction - a true motivator.

How do you want women to feel?

Firstly, I want women to feel like they’ve bought something of value for money and that they are able to maximise the garment in different ways so it’s a conscious purchase and also having in mind that when you’re purchasing a garment, you support a brand that in return supports the livelihoods of many women that are a part of our brand. I design our silhouettes in primarily free sizes, that make you feel stylish and comfortable all at once.


Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is a journalist specialising in travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also the Features Editor for Hi!! Magazine. An intrepid traveller, she likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno [email protected]



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