“Cruelty-free production is a big part of my story”: Sajee Seneviratne‍

August 15, 2023

“I wanted to reflect on the value of cruelty-free production in the brand, as it is a big part of my story,” says Sajee Seneviratne, the Founder of MENDÉS Ceylon.

MENDÉS Ceylon is a modern, artisan-driven brand that emphasises on Sri Lankan artisans and crafts while adopting contemporary silhouettes. According to Sajee, MENDÉS Ceylon has a strong focus on ethical practices and strictly adheres to a policy of being animal product free and completely vegan.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Would you like to introduce yourself and your brand MENDÉS Ceylon?

I’m Sajee Seneviratne, the Founder of MENDES Ceylon and an alumnus of the Academy of Design (AOD). 

While engaged with my studies, I had the opportunity to design textiles with artisans, which inspired me to explore artisan textiles and build a brand centred on them. After being inspired by this experience, I carried out research and found that the existing niche for artisan garments had a gap for products featuring stylish silhouettes and good fits.

Following this, in 2018, I founded MENDES Ceylon and launched a few collections. However, the pandemic in 2020 slowed down the progress of the business. This made me re-evaluate the core values of the business and focus on being a conscious, meaningful, and sustainable brand.

As for the name of the brand, Mendes is one of my surnames, while the brand’s inspiration was derived from the cultural and historical transformation of garments, style, fabrics, and textiles that took place after the colonisation of Sri Lanka, resulting in ‘MENDES Ceylon’.

Could you tell us more about the cultural element you speak of, which is very visible in your designs featuring southern and post-colonial silhouettes? We'd love to know about the thinking behind this and the inspiration that drives your creative process.

While the cultural element was the foundation, we don’t limit ourselves to it when it comes to our silhouettes. We also try to incorporate local heritage elements in some of our products such as batik, motifs, and handloom. We look to the West as well for inspiration, since we want to cater to a wider audience, while maintaining a balance between heritage and modernity by incorporating the two elements harmoniously.

How do you ensure this balance? What are the elements that work well together and what have you experimented with so far?

We believe in striking a harmonious balance between heritage, modernity, and achieve this through a thoughtful blend of traditional elements and contemporary influences in our designs. To ensure this balance, we draw inspiration from our rich cultural heritage while infusing it with modern design techniques and trends. The incorporation of traditional craftsmanship and techniques into our creations pays homage to our roots and preserves the essence of our heritage.

In terms of fabric types, colour palettes, and silhouettes, what works best with your designs and the story behind them?

Mendes Ceylon adheres strictly to vegan principles when selecting fabrics, ensuring that our collections align with ethical values. Our predominant choice of fabrics is cotton linen, which not only offers a sustainable option, but also embodies the essence of our brand. 

Our colour palette revolves around key shades such as black, white, navy blue, and dust pink. We embrace a minimalist aesthetic and consistently stay up-to-date with international colour trends.

You emphasised that animal welfare and veganism are top priorities for the brand; could you expand on this?

I have been a vegetarian for more than 15 years and I wanted to reflect the value of vegetarianism via the brand, as it is a big part of my story. We avoid materials sourced from animals. 

For example, silk is a popular fabric for batik clothing, sarees, and many more garments, however we try to avoid it as it is sourced from animals. Similarly, we avoid other materials sourced from animals, such as leather and wool.

Have there been any significant challenges in this approach and how have you tackled them? 

Adapting to a cruelty-free approach in the Sri Lankan context is relatively straightforward. Our country does not heavily rely on animal testing or the use of animal textiles such as wool. However, the real challenge lies in educating consumers here.

We recognise that Sri Lanka is not a nation where these practices are widespread, which makes consumer education a priority for us. Our main objective is to raise awareness and highlight the significance of aligning personal values with ethical principles.

In terms of your clientele, how have they responded to this approach? And is there a demand locally for cruelty-free clothing?

Through various initiatives, we strive to inform and educate consumers about the importance of cruelty-free alternatives and the positive impact it has on animals and the environment. By emphasising on the benefits of adopting these principles, we aim to empower individuals to make conscious choices that align with their values.

Ultimately, our focus is to bridge the gap between existing practices and the growing demand for cruelty-free options, ensuring that consumers in Sri Lanka are well-informed and equipped to make compassionate choices.

What are your plans for the brand going forward? Are there specific areas you wish to focus on?

The focus of the brand has shifted from merely making clothes and making women look stylish to prioritising being more sustainable, ethical, climate-friendly, and eco-friendly. The big plan for our brand is to be sustainable and educate our customers on sustainability. I believe that responsibly-made clothes are the best place to start the conversation.

How can entities such as EthicalX help you in achieving these goals?

We started operations only in 2018; the brand is still new and we are just shifting the brand focus, so programmes offering support and counsel such as EthicalX enable entrepreneurs like us to achieve our goals of being ethical, sustainable, and climate-friendly. This is extremely helpful and we are really excited to be a part of this programme.

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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.