Fashion Designer with Finesse
Chathuri Samaraweera

Making headway in the fashion business is no mean feat. However Middle East based fashion designer Chathuri Samaraweera is storming ahead in the fashion stakes with her label ANAYA which creates stylish and fashionable high-end clothing for the discerning Arab market. Armed to the hilt with business and fashion related degrees, Chathuri also had a solid industry training before launching her label. A regular at the Middle Eastern Fashion Weeks, Chathuri unveiled her latest collection at the recently concluded Paris Fashion Week. A past winner of the Young Fashion Entrepreneur Award during London Fashion Week in collaboration with the British Fashion Council and the British Council in Sri Lanka, Chathuri’s fashion star is on the ascend.

Text Tina Edward Gunawardhana
Photos Siyath Ranathunge
Hair and Make-up Chalana Munasinghe (Ramani Fernando Salons) Stylist Charith Dalugoda
Location Movenpick Hotel, Colombo

What sparked your interest in fashion?

I was inspired by art from a very young age. My father had an art gallery and was involved in supporting and promoting many emerging painters and sculptors which gave me exposure to the many aspects of the creative field in Sri Lanka.

What made you take fashion seriously and make a career out of it?

I always knew I wanted to be in fashion. However to be business savvy and build a sustainable fashion business, I realized I need to have a Bachelor’s in business. I graduated from Monash University in Australia with a double major in Accounting and Finance and moved back to Sri Lanka.

With a short stint in leading FMCG brands like Nestle and Coca Cola I got the knowledge of marketing and brand management to start my fashion journey not as a hobby but as a serious career move. After I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, I started my journey as an assistant designer at the prestigious designer label BCBG Max Azria. I moved back to Sri Lanka to head the design team of MAS Active which gave me exposure to the manufacturing side of the fashion business. With this invaluable knowledge I acquired, I started my own brand ‘ANAYA’. I strongly believe that if you have the talent coupled with industry knowledge and business background , fashion can truly be a career that can change your life.

How important is it to study fashion design?

I believe it is important to get a professional qualification before you start your fashion business as a designer. The innate talent of a designer is natural yet never fully used to its highest potential without a solid background in an Arts degree in fashion which trains you in all aspects of fashion. I graduated from one of the prestigious fashion schools in America with an Associate of Arts Fashion Design in 2004.

How has your work evolved since you started your label?

My work for many designers around the world has evolved from less commercial creative designs to more refined creations with a very unique signature that represents the brand essence of ANAYA. The best compliment I have received is when my clients say that they can recognize my brand from a distance without having to read the label. That’s the strength of building an identity for your brand.

Are there any types of clothing that you avoid designing?

Yes of course! The type of clothing that is merely a trend or a replica of another designer which is nothing to do with the essence of ANAYA. I believe that each designer has his or her own feel for what they create and I stay true to mine.

How is your work received internationally?

Since I launched my label in 2010, I have been honoured to have received the Young Fashion Entrepreneur Award during London Fashion Week in collaboration with the British Fashion Council and the British Council in Sri Lanka. I have been on the cover of the Fortune magazine in the Middle East in November 2012 as one of the five emerging fashion talents of the Middle East. I have won the Fashion Designer of the Year award in 2014 at the Masala Awards in the UAE. My brand has got a lot of exposure in the Middle East and received many celebrity endorsements. ANAYA was featured in and I just showed at Paris Fashion Week. We are also retailing in leading department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue (Bahrain) which has elevated the label to international standards.

What are you motivated by and how does it translates to your work?

I’m constantly motivated by my ability to create designs that are both practical and fashion forward bringing my customers something fresh every season. The fact that I have created a brand with a global feel and a potential to expand in a very lucrative manner keeps me motivated.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt since you started your business?

To stay true to your brand aesthetic and never confuse your customer by trying to do different things which dilutes your brand and lose the brand identity. I have seen many designers fail because they lose their identity trying to focus on only making profits or trying to do what the competition is doing. Stay true to your creative spirit and keep your style of work consistent.

What advice do you give young designers?

I strongly advice them to get a professional qualification from a reputed school first. They should also get industry experience as an intern leading up to a role as a designer. I believe that it’s important to get experience in the industry before starting your own label. It’s very crucial to understand what your design aesthetic is and your target customer, without this you will get lost in this highly competitive game of fashion. Having a good understanding about finances and making sure your product is commercially viable is crucial.

What would you like to achieve before the end of the year?

I am branching out to launch a line of accessories focusing on luxury leather handbags made in Italy under the same label ANAYA during the Dubai Fashion Week.

What is your motto?

Be creative yet consistent.

How would you define your design aesthetic?

My designs are feminine with a feeling of effortless luxury. It’s powerful yet subtle making my clients feel sensual and sexy flaunting the natural curves of their body.

How many collections do you bring out in a year?

Four - Spring/Summer, Ramadan, Fall/Winter and Resort /Holiday.

How have you managed to survive in the highly competitive Middle Eastern market?

I have been very consistent with my design aesthetic and my unique selling point. I maintain a very luxurious feel for my collections using only the best quality material from Europe and producing in my own studio with careful attention to detail. It’s very important to offer the customers high quality and something new every season because the Middle Eastern customer is exposed to the best brands in the world and they don’t want to compromise on the quality. They are open to new designers with similar characteristics of the high-end luxury labels and are willing to pay the price if they see value in it.

How do you balance creativity with commerce?

You need to understand your target market very well before you start the creative process of designing a collection. From concept to commercialization you need to keep in mind the core values of your brand, consumer needs, her bodyshape, her lifestyle and the retail price point which is commercially viable. If you can balance your creative ideas with the commercial aspects of your target market while maintaining the true essence of your brand, you have a winning model.