Climate-friendly fashion in Sri Lanka – perspectives from industry insiders

May 10, 2022

The urgency of the climate crisis has caused stakeholders of diverse backgrounds to look at creative solutions, options, and alternatives, especially in how they are conducting business. Climate-resilient business practices have been introduced in sync with a consumer move towards informed choices with regard to sustainable and climate-friendly practices. This includes changes in consumption and production patterns as well as the application of climate-friendly solutions to address global, national, and local issues.

In the fashion industry in recent years, there has been a shift and trend in promoting values of sustainability with a stronger focus on the environment, recycling, and humanity. In Sri Lanka, climate-friendly and ethical fashion is still at early stages, with the potential to grow and integrate at a broader scale. Industry insiders speaking to SLYCAN Trust have shed light on the trends and developments, challenges, and opportunities in climate-friendly and ethical fashion in Sri Lanka.

The creative business model and storytelling

In 2012, fashion designer Lonali Rodrigo launched her brand “House of Lonali,” which promotes the concept of upcycled fashion. House of Lonali is dedicated to manufacturing a variety of fashion items which are 100 percent upcycled. During her interview with SLYCAN Trust, Lonali expressed her continuous efforts to raise awareness of sustainable fashion, circular designing, upcycling, and regenerative fashion.

“We saw a gap in the apparel industry which leaves a lot of material waste. As a designer, I was thinking of how I can address this problem that is affecting the environment by finding a creative solution. We saw an opportunity and pioneered sustainable fashion in Sri Lanka through our business model.” – Lonali Rodrigo

“Majä- a new story” was established as a brand in 2018 by Draupadie Weerapperuma, who was inspired to create fashion from pre-loved items such as sarees and drapes. Before kick-starting her brand, she had conceptualized a business model for environmentally conscious and sustainable apparel for almost a year.

“A lot of clothing go to waste and end up in landfills. To delay and prevent that process, I try to make reversible and adjustable outfits.” – Draupadie Weerapperuma

“Local Forecast,” co-founded by Alifiya Mutaher, also spoke to SLYCAN Trust about how her business began as an offshoot of the Colombo Design Market, an event space for art brands to come together for workshops and talk about Sri Lanka’s creative culture. Local Forecast is the digital space of the Colombo Design Market, an online store and a storytelling platform for local artists and is still in a transition process towards a 100 percent climate-friendly and ethical business.

“We have three brands that work with natural dyes–Botanic Hues, Kolam, and Couth–which reduce chemical waste used in the process of dyeing and use less resources by buying waste materials and upcycling them.” – Alifiya Mutahe

The climate-conscious buyer

While many people around the world are captivated by fashion, consumption of fashionable items have changed over time. For instance, factoring environmental and social concerns into business strategies was a recent movement across the corporate world. Gradually, consumer patterns have also evolved, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when people had more time to reflect about their lifestyles.

A 2020 survey conducted by McKinsey and Company with the participation of over 2,000 UK and German consumers found that two-thirds of the participants believed that the fashion industry must limit its climate impacts. While 88 percent of respondents believe more attention must be paid to reducing pollution, 57 percent have actually changed their lifestyles and habits to be more environment-friendly, with more than 60 percent recycling their products or purchasing environmentally sustainable packaging.

According to the representatives from the Sri Lankan ethical fashion industry, the consumer patterns are slowly changing to be more aware of climate change and sustainable living.

“At the beginning, converting the consumer mindset was challenging because they did not know they were paying for sustainability when they saw the price tag. They were also more reluctant when they heard that the clothes were made from waste.” – Lonali Rodrigo

Now, consumers in Sri Lanka are becoming more conscious as they purchase products in sustainable packaging and have made small changes such as opting for second-hand selling and buying or giving back used clothes for a new look. However, these consumer habits must be sustained, and the message of climate-conscious and sustainable fashion still needs to reach wider audiences.

To contribute to achieving this goal, SLYCAN Trust has initiated the Ethical Pitch Accelerator (EthicalX) together with a number of strategic partners to support climate-friendly, sustainable, and ethical entrepreneurship and start-up development across four key sectors, including the fashion and apparel industry. Working on the local, national, and global level, EthicalX aims to create awareness, build capacities, understand the economic context for start-ups, and help entrepreneurs across and beyond Sri Lanka to mainstream concepts of sustainability, climate-smart production, resilience, and social responsibility into their initiatives and innovations.

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About the Author

SLYCAN Trust is a non-profit think tank. It has been a registered legal entity in the form of a trust since 2016, and a guarantee limited company since 2019. The entities focus on the thematic areas of climate change, adaptation and resilience, sustainable development, environmental conservation and restoration, social justice, and animal welfare. SLYCAN Trust’s activities include legal and policy research, education and awareness creation, capacity building and training, and implementation of ground level action. SLYCAN Trust aims to facilitate and contribute to multi-stakeholder driven, inclusive and participatory actions for a sustainable and resilient future for all.