A man of many talents
Experimenting with vegetable dyes to design clothes will not be
everybody's cup of tea, but for a person with creative imagination, it
is no big deal. Richard Branson once said," it's okay to have crazy
ideas, because you never know when they might come true." This of course
might seem an odd idea but regarding its' positive results, it's worth
If you want to know about a person of many talents, then it should be
none other else than Senaka De Silva , famous fashion and craft
designer, consultant craftsman , choreographer, interior designer ,
couturier, all blended in to one.
He has done it again this time with the concept of experimenting with
vegetable dyes to give clothes a more natural, and the wearer a
healthier lifestyle without any using any chemicals which are unsuitable
for one's health.
He leads a a very sedate and quiet lifestyle in his artistic home in
a peaceful area in Colombo, so that he can create his work with no
disturbance. Travelling and playing his guitar in his surroundings , he
is happy and content with himself.
His artistic nature is seen when you enter his simple but elegant
home full of crafts, handlooms ,brassware , souvenirs from various
countries, wooden plaques, clay pots,cane and bamboo ware.
His home itself is an art gallery. The interior is cool and breezy ,
calm and quiet.
He has made sure that nature itself is also a part of the house ,
because there is a coconut tree inside which has been made into a kind
of pillar ,without a single damage to the tree itself! In the shady
hall, the Sunday Observer was able to have a discussion with this man of
wonders, about his career and experiences in the field of fashion and
The Montage interviewed him to know his ideas and expressions about
fashion, and his latest projects.
He started his career at an early age and was always interested in
textiles. In school he excelled in the Arts and Design. At 13 , he
learned about batiks. He went to the Melbourne Art School to study batik
and they were allowed to experiment on anything. After school, he joined
the Department of Aesthetic Studies and studied there for five
years,learning every aspect of craft and design , ranging from pottery
to clay work.
As he spoke he showed us the various creations he made,and showing a
shawl dyed with tea stains,he asked, "can you believe this can be done
with such ingredients ?" which was stunning indeed.
He adds that even if he goes for a show that he does not need to go
to other people for accessories , because he makes them himself. Being
connected with nature and doing things connected with nature has always
been his passion , thus he has showed his vivid imagination by
introducing vegetable dyes to the fashion world. Talking about his
latest experiment, he said from the ancient times people have been using
clothes used with vegetable dyes.
A Buddhist priest's robes were made with dyes taken from the bark of
the jak tree, and clothes from extracts from other plants. He is now
trying to see if he can see what colors he can use from experimenting
with various plants and taking out their extracts.
He has also tried the same way earlier , with hand painted batiks
including tea stains. He has also worked together with Chrishanthi
Fernandopulle for three years.
He said it was exiting. Working with the "Laaksha" people to make
them create high fashion accessories,encouraging the "sesath" people to
make small pendants was really enjoyable. Speaking about the Colombo
Fashion Week,he said that he is not interested in going for such
pageants. His opinion is that all the universities and fashion designers
come there and display stuff which have no creativity . That it's
He says that he's lucky to work with the NCC. There are a lot of
successful stories of many people. He has brought so many things of the
past into creativity. Working with the National Crafts Council he got
the craftsmen to do a lot of things , using temple art, paper pulp and
He showed a miniature souvenir of a traditional drum and a small
replica of a "sesath".He said that at first the craftsmen were reluctant
to do so and that he had to push them to do such creations. He got the "paduru"
people to do small mats and that they are to bring back " kurunis ".
He got them to do contemporary products. The Jaffna people were
enabled to make "thalkola" bags .People were encouraged to make little
jewellery boxes and bags made of banana fibre.
When asked if there was any recognition for the fashion industry in
Sri Lanka ,he said there was no recognition .During the previous regime
the importing of materials were banned.
We need to have a textile market.We don't have enough fabrics. People
cant afford to buy and sew material for big prizes. In the field of
fashion designing and textiles ,Yolande Aluvihare and Dharshi
Keerthisena have talent,and they are doing a great job.He said these
days people do not dress fashionably.
Developing countries like us export materials but westernised
countries pay a lot to buy hand made stuff. What has happened to our
fashion industry is we had Thultex , Veytex,but they did not have enough
technology.India does not even import a single thread.
He said that when he goes to India he is amazed to see their
development. There is such a big market for their products. In between
the discussion he showed a bag made of coconut shells,which is so rich
looking,and done with such creativity,that one might mistake it for one
of these "Gucci" or "Gianni Versace" bags. He further says what has to
happen is ,everything has to be marketed and branded properly
.This famous man of all talents said that nobody knows how to match
colors these days. If the products can be sophisticated,branded marketed
and sold at a better price,then things may begin to develop gradually.
He is a free thinker who directly expresses his point of view. He
said the relevant ministries should set up these people and they should
be given foreign exposure. Since the tourism Industry has increased,
Batiks have come up.
According to Senaka, durability is very important. He said that he
was doing some exciting thing at the moment, that they 're branding and
packaging the crafts. When we go to the gift and souvenir market we have
to have that kind of exposure. While he was saying that he was showing a
beautiful book made of wood packed inside a lovely cover. Senaka said
that people should have their own value and recognize their talents. All
these miniature versions of sesaths and musical instruments they want to
sell on line, and said that they can be given to airlines too.
But the veteran said that you have to market it. He feels very happy
for at the National Handicraft Exhibition ,a lot of people gave orders.
Therefore there will be a lot of entrepreneurs, but they have to put
their talents in to action ,without just keeping them hidden in
That is what a successful designer is, he thinks. He pulls out more
of some lovely Batiks in various patterns and designs, eye catching
shawls and more handicrafts. When you design, he says , you have to make
sure you create something with a few given colors. You must know how to
make it. You just can't be sitting there. There is a certain method to
be a good fashion designer.
Fashion designing is something mathematical and geometric. Some of
the designs are done in a geometric way. It has to be in order, and you
have to develop a good technique. One has to learn about colours, first
of all. Finally, when asked what advice he would give for somebody who
works as a fashion designer , he says , that you have to learn design.
Take a present fashion designer, he says .
They only know a little fashion designing is a vast area.
You have to learn about the creations that other people made before
you. Even if you design, they can't be impractical. Even if it's maddity,
there should be a method. There should be a method to that madness. One
should learn how to sew a Maggia sleeve when somebody does that.
It was indeed a pleasure to have a discussion with this renowned
veteran f all talents , who has immense knowledge in every field, and
having a special interest for folk music. He's not much into Rock music
, and according to him there were amazing singers of yesteryear such as
Bob Dylan who were folk singers.
Fashion is also a part of Rock, especially when it comes to following
fashion styles of whichever particular rock band. Glam rock and
Psychedelia were among the most commonly followed styles. He strummed
his guitar as he spoke, saying that he loves to play folk music, and
also has a collection of guitars too, which he lovingly keeps in his
simple yet artistic abode.