Inaugural Launch Of The Ceylon Heritage Festival Fashion Show

Sep 11 2023.

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The annual Ceylon Heritage Festival by the Rachel Raj Foundation and the Ministry of Industries will have its inaugural launch with a fashion show dedicated to artisanal traditional textile crafts on September 27 at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo. The event will serve as the launch pad for the new “Heritage Hands” label,  a 100% Sri Lankan-crafted clothing and accessory brand endorsed by the Industrial Development Board. 

For years, Sri Lanka’s textile cottage industries have been one of the island’s best-kept secrets. From our dumbara weavers in the hill country to our beeralu lace makers down south and our palymrah fibre textiles from the north, nowhere in the world boasts the unique craftsmanship and quality of these centuries-old artisanal textiles. The art of the craft is privy to only a select few in rural Sri Lanka and has been passed down from generation to generation in order to keep this art form alive.

Unfortunately, being the island's best-kept secret is slowly killing this indigenous craft as artisans struggle to compete with the cheaper, lower-quality alternatives with little to no access or support to enter new markets. Where countries like Mexico and Africa, which create unique textiles, market their cultural crafts to the world, our traditional textiles fly under the radar with limited global exposure. Coupled with soaring costs of living and finding little opportunity in the industry, this generational heritage craft is on the decline and very much at risk of disappearing altogether. 

Sarita Rajandran, Founder and Managing Director of the Rachel Raj resort and swimwear brand which employs and works closely with several artisans of the crafts for the luxury fashion label, is well aware of the struggles these artistes face and believes that these traditional textile industries are severely underutilised and undervalued.

"One of the reasons the cottage industries are declining is that these crafts haven't been curated to cater to the modern palate. The global market is crazy for traditional craftsmanship in fashion, but it needs to be modern and wearable, and because we haven't developed our craft to blend in with the times, our artisans are missing out on a huge market opportunity." 

In celebration of her label's 10th anniversary this year, Sarita founded the Rachel Raj Foundation to empower and promote traditional textile crafts in international markets. Together with the Ministry of Industries, under the guidance of the Minister, Hon. (Dr.) Ramesh Pathirana and the Industrial Development Board, the Ceylon Heritage Festival was conceptualised to showcase Sri Lanka's heritage industries of fashion, art, music, literature, and more. While the Festival is set to be an annual encounter, the inaugural event will be marked by a Fashion Show this year, in a conscious effort to preserve the country's resources given the current economic crunch. 

The Ceylon Heritage Festival Fashion Show will showcase the role of Sri Lanka's indigenous textile crafts in modern design palettes with the launch of the Heritage Hands label.  The label will incorporate pieces where traditional crafts, such as dumbara weaving, beeralu lace, bamboo and palmyra fibre fabric, crochet, handloom and batik printing will be the mainstay of the collection. While these textile crafts are often visualised in a traditional setting, the Heritage Hands collection juxtaposes the old with the new, showcasing how effortlessly tradition and trend can combine to bridge the gap between heritage and contemporary fashion. 

The show will also feature pieces designed by the graduates of Moratuwa University's Fashion Textile Engineering department. Following the launch of the brand, the Heritage Hands collection will be made available exclusively at Laksala stores islandwide. Speaking on the IDB’s endorsement and support given to the Festival and the Heritage Hands label, the Chairman of the IDB, Dr. Saranga Alahapperuma shared that the Board together with the Ministry are looking positively at this show as it is the first-ever fashion show dedicated solely to the cottage industries.

“Over 20,000 skilled artisans work in this industry, but sadly, because they aren't utilising modern marketing techniques to expand into new markets and because they frequently target low-end local markets, there is little industry growth and very little interaction from the younger generations because they don't see much future potential in their craft right now. Because of this, we want to take it on and support these artisans by making it easier for them to access new, international markets.”

“The traditional textile crafts produce very unique designs and high-quality, sustainable material. With the fashion show and the label, I think buyers can see the versatility of this market and we hope to take the craft offshore and give these artisans the support they need to pitch to foreign buyers and international shows.” 

The Ceylon Heritage Festival Fashion Show will be presented to foreign buyers and the diplomatic strata as well as the public in hopes of attracting international buyers and fostering collaborations that can further boost the export of these industries and pave the way to enter new markets. The Festival not only aims to contribute to the growth of Sri Lanka's economy and bring exposure to international markets but also, and perhaps more importantly,  help preserve and pass down the art of traditional textile crafting to future generations.  

Tickets are priced Rs. 5000 and are inclusive of the fashion show and cocktail beverages. Tickets will be available at Ramani Fernando Salons - Elibank Road (Tuesday-Saturday 9.30 – 5pm) and Borella ( 9.30 – 5pm Daily) and Playtrix Sports Bar Colombo City Centre (11-6pm Daily).    

(Pix Courtesy: RRF)


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