Sri Lanka is home to a burgeoning design community. From ethical accessories to sustainable swimwear, a growing cohort of small brands is championing creativity and craftsmanship on the Indian Ocean island.
A global textile hub, Sri Lanka produces a tremendous amount of clothing for export. But for every item sewn and shipped abroad, a significant amount of fabric goes to waste as offcuts and surplus – much of which will be consigned to storage, sent to landfill or simply burnt. Then there’s the pressing question of working conditions and fair pay for a workforce consisting primarily of rural women.
Many of the brands outlined below tackle both of these issues, putting fair wages and low-waste at the centre of their production approach, as they strive for a better, more environmentally positive fashion industry in Sri Lanka.
Our favourite ethical and eco-focused brands also deliver across the island and worldwide. So whether you’re shopping in Sri Lanka or browsing from abroad, you’re sure to find something chic and eco to suit your style.
Times are tough in 2021. Now, more than ever, many of these initiatives could use your support!
Original Source & Supply
Created by talented illustrator Martina, Original Source & Supply makes a range of gorgeous small-batch products – from iconic cards inspired by the island to suitably tropical travel bags – while pushing for a more responsible and ethical fashion industry.
The small team pride themselves on transparency and traceability, encouraging consumers to be more aware of the origins of their purchases. Clothing, bags and totes are created using surplus factory fabric, in an effort to minimise waste as much as possible, whilst posters and cards use plastic-free packaging. There’s heaps of information about the sourcing of each product – and the individual makers – on the brand’s website, too.
Cards, colouring books, posters and kimonos are stocked in shops within Colombo and along the south coast, and can also be ordered online for shipping worldwide.
Based in the tea-clad hills of Nuwara Eliya, AMMA crafts beautiful clothing and jewellery, as well as made-to-order homeware for bespoke projects, using botanical dyes sourced from plants and food waste in the surrounding area.
The all-women team is made up of mothers – hence the name, ‘AMMA’ – whose income from weaving, dyeing and sewing empowers them to support their families and drive change in their communities.
Choose between big patchwork bags dyed with madder root & avocado, scarves striped with handwoven indigo & eucalyptus dye, and hoop earrings crafted from entwined nelli-dyed cotton yarn. Brilliant presents for yourself or a loved one, AMMA’s growing collection of natural products are inspiring, ethical and eco-minded.
Featuring ocean-inspired swimwear for both men and women, Pigeon Island champions the cause of conservation – raising awareness of the need to preserve and protect Sri Lankan’s beaches, reefs and seas. Named for Pigeon Island National Park, located off the island’s east coast, the brand also partners with Blue Resources Trust to encourage marine research and sustainable management of biodiverse ocean ecosystems.
The swimwear itself is fashioned from sustainable fabrics, including recycled ocean plastic. Look out for the men’s swim shorts, crafted from seven recycled plastic bottles and adorned with Black Tip Sharks – often spotted in the waters surrounding Pigeon Island.
One of the pioneers of mindful Lankan fashion in recent years, Lonali’s ethos is clear: recycle, reduce, reuse. Acting as an antidote to fast fashion, this award-winning brand up-cycles surplus textiles from large manufacturers, which would otherwise have gone to landfill. Lonali works with skilled artisans to transform unwanted fabric into unique clothing and lifestyle accessories.
Specialising in women’s beachwear and yoga gear, Nakota Tuwa sources its silky soft fabric from garment industry offcuts.
Founder and designer Tif lives and works on Sri Lanka’s south coast, producing comfortable yet elegant clothing with her small, in-house team of seamstresses – both for local stockists and online sales. Expect free-flowing dresses, bikinis in earthy tones and lovely wrap tops, ideal for island living or tropical trips.
Clothes are made to order and can be adjusted according to your measurements – just get in touch with the team. Better still, 10% of profits are donated to fantastic local charity The Sambol Foundation.
The Old Railway
A vibrant shop housed within the old store rooms of the Ceylon Railway Company, The Old Railway offers a capsule collection of vibrant women’s clothing and accessories. Produced from surplus fabric, each piece is hand-cut and sewn by in-house seamstresses, based on designs by founder Catherine.
The shop also offers a bespoke tailoring service, adjusting existing pieces to individual specifications and making clothing to order – including striking wedding dresses.
Fusing a low-waste ethos with quirky design and fun fashion photoshoots, this brand is deservedly popular both on the island and with in-the-know customers based abroad. The eclectic annual Colombo Fashion Week collection is always one to look out for…
An ethical fashion outfit focused on empowering women of all ages, Buddhi Batiks has been using traditional methods to create bold batik clothing since 1970. Artisans are recruited from the area surrounding the Koswadiya workshop in north-western Sri Lanka, then trained by fellow creators with decades of experience.
Highlights include bright dresses, wrap skirts and men’s shirts with funky abstract prints. Off-cuts are up-cycled into one-of-a-kind garments, while the big standout pieces are gorgeous gowns and splendid sarees.
International shipping is available through The Design Collective Store.