A Bold and Daring Fashion Entrepreneur: Niroshi Liyanage
By Sunali Fernando
From a mere fashion designing undergraduate to the owner of her very own fashion designing institute and fashion brand in Sri Lanka, Niroshi has proven that anyone can succeed when you find your passion and follow your heart. LOOK Magazine sat down with Niroshi to have a chat about how she made her mark in the fashion designing industry.
Q. What inspired you to get into fashion designing?
A. I have a flair for art and I'm coming from a family that has a lot of creativity. I was influenced by my parents. They had a garment factory. Creativity isn't anything new to me; it comes down from our bloodline, singing, playing instruments, etc. But for fashion, I think I started developing this desire for fabric by looking into fabric, reading books, and going through catalogues because there was no internet those days to get updated. So when catalogues from abroad came to my family, I looked at those and I had an urge to redesign. A very good advantage for me was that my parent's factory had lots of fabric, so we used to use that for playing. I started designing for myself when I was 10. I used to roughly sketch it and then, give it with the fabric to one of the workers in the factory after getting permission from my parents. I used to get hold of a factory girl once a week to make something for me to go to church every Sunday. I had a new dress every Sunday. So that's how it all started.
Q. Was it your dream to become a fashion designer?
A. I did not have it in mind to come into fashion designing in the future, what I had in mind was basically to go into medicine. But there was a time when I was finishing my A/Ls as a foreign student abroad and deciding on which stream to take. Even becoming a doctor would take 6-7 years, but by that time I had developed a lot of interest in entrepreneurship so I wanted to be my own boss some day. Then having the creative side within me including taking part in cake exhibitions, flower exhibitions, etc., I was trying to decide between music and fashion designing. Then on my mother's advice, I picked up fashion and that was like a booming industry then, in 1998/1999. So I started it then, but it was very new to have a fashion degree at that time. So after completing the degree, I moved to Sri Lanka and started this business. I was the batch top in the degree programme, so I was given a lot of support since I also started working then and there as well. But I really wanted to move out and start my own business. So I was very young when I got into business. And my mother invested in my vision. So that's where the roots of LIFT has begun and grown to what it is today.
Q. Are you focusing on a certain style through your brand?
A. More than Fashion and Fad, I prefer classics, which means basically long lived fashion than having something on a short term.
That's my personal taste, but then I would not want to restrict my personal taste to when I'm delivering a lecture or when I have to deal with designs. LIFT is very diverse. It has a signature but also I'm looking at various customer needs. But when we started our brand 'Niro and Niro' with my sister, we never had garments with frail edges and very rugged looking clothes. Personally I like clothes which are more of the style of celine, YSL, very clean cut, but it has a structure and detailed design cut in an extraordinary mannar. So what I believe is that it's not about following fashion or a particular style, but it has to suit you as well, if not you would be like a clown.
Q. How do you stay up-to-date with the fashion trends?
A. That has become a part of my life. I think a lot of people used to shop for leisure and do shopping for themselves. But this I enjoyed from my small days. And even now, it's a part of my day-to-day work. I love doing shop visits, I love shopping. That is updating me with the latest trends. And also since we are into education, we are being updated regularly from all our connected countries. Today getting yourself updated it also not a big deal with the facilities provided by internet. But officially I visit Premier Vision, the exhibitions in Paris and also I keep in touch with most of the trend predictors and trend predicting companies. So at least like 18 months ahead, we know what's happening.
Q. Can you tell us about how you started your institute?
A. The institute that I started is called LIFT which is the first fashion educational institute in Sri Lanka. This was in the year 2000 which is basically 17 years ago. At that time there were no fashion schools in Sri Lanka even for me to study. I did my undergraduate degree in fashion designing abroad. When I came down, it was my focus that I should start a school, what I did not have during my time.
Q. what are the qualities that you look for in applicants applying for LIFT?
A. we offer a three year Bachelor degree programme in Fashion Designing and Advanced Diploma courses and we look for A/Ls and a good knowledge of the English language for these courses. For our Diploma courses, we look for O/Ls and again English language which is a must. Those are the academic qualifications. There is an age limit also, you have to be 18+ to apply for the degree and 17+ to apply for the Advanced Diploma. We also look for creativity and a passion for Fashion Designing.
Q. What are your thoughts on the current Fashion Industry in Sri Lanka?
A. I have been watching it for the past 17 years. It has grown evidently, yet we still have a long way to go if we are to compete in the international level. As an educational institute we try our best to set standards and be an example to show what real fashion is. But it is hard sometimes because we have different market levels. There is only a limited crowd following the current trends.
Many prefer something comfortable and suitable for their budget. So our designers have to do a lot to reach that.
Q. What are the future plans for your institute and your brand?
A. My brand is basically dedicated to be an example. I was never a person to design clothes, sell and make it all a business. I did that to set an example for my designers. So what I'm aiming at is for my designers to look at it and initiate their own businesses. We also have allocated a designer wear boutique in the institute for them to develop their brand and sell it. As for me I don't think I'll have much work in Sri Lanka, it'll be mostly on the luxury range that I'm working on. It's a bit diversed from fashion, but still fashion related. In terms of the school, we've expanded yet I want to keep it as exclusively as possible and enroll only a limited number of students.
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