From scientist to fashion designer
Rukshani Gunaratne
Style maker who made her mark at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia

What sparked your interest in fashion?

I’ve always had a creative side and an interest in designing and sewing . I’ve always had a little sketch book on me even in high school and always enjoyed design and found it very relaxing and satisfying.

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

During my first year of Biomedical Science I was already having second thoughts about the career pathway I was on, as I didn’t find it interesting. I very young and believed that I had to finish the degree. When I was 19 I graduated from Biomedical Science and had a much stronger interest in pursuing a career in fashion. Therefore I started Fashion School soon after. Fashion Design was always something that brought me joy and challenged me. Designing was a more satisfying career hence I wanted to follow my heart although I knew a creative career will always be a more challenging one.

Are you self taught or did you study Fashion Design?

I studied Fashion Design for three years. Of course you do a lot of self learning too - as in any career! If you want to master something, study gives you a base but you always have to keep learning, whether it be self learning or academic courses to enhance your skills.

How did you find the transition from science to fashion?

I found it definitely more challenging possibly due to the fact that it was where my heart was and I wanted to do it well.

Where and when did you intern?

Soon after I graduated I packed up my bags and left for London hoping to find some internship positions there. I was soon accepted to work full time as a design intern at Jonathan Saunders. I was extremely honoured and proud. I got to work with him directly and alongside his amazing team. He is now the creative head at DVF. I worked there for 8 months full time. Then I was accepted for many internship positions but the one I took up was to work at Preen By Thornton Bregazzi, which was a label I have always admired. After about two months at Thornton Bregazzi, I was ready to head back to Australia and find a full time role there.

What was the most valuable experience you learnt from your internships?

What you learn at university is only a fragment of the skills that is needed to work in a fashion environment. I learnt to toughen up and be quick at my work. You have to work extremely hard and invest long hours as there are always challenging deadlines to meet. It is also crucial that you are able to multi task and manage time.

How has your work evolved since you started your own label?

Once you do a start up, you learn so much everyday. You get more of an understanding of different areas of the business that I had not experienced before, especially the business and marketing side of things. You also grow and mature as a designer and learn to think as a buyer as well, in the sense of creating pieces for a certain clientele and not just focus solely on design. I definitely have grown a lot more in the last few months than I have in the few years I have been working as a designer.

Can you describe the experience of taking part in Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Sydney?

It was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had. It was such a proud moment for me as it gave me a boost in confidence that I needed to pursue my own label and business.

How has that elevated your career?

It opened up doors for me to work with different labels and I have had some great experiences since then. It has helped me grow into a better designer. The media exposure I received both in Australia and internationally was also a plus.

What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work?

I’m completely fascinated by the music and style of the 60’s and the 70’s. I have tried to include elements from these eras into my collections.

Do you find that your Sri Lankan heritage influences your work?

Of course it does. I think the nature and colours of Sri Lanka and a lot of the fabric influence me.

Where will you be selling your clothes in Sri Lanka?

I will be launching the brand at The Design Collective at Gandhara. This is a beautiful space created by Shahili and Binu for designers to sell their collections.
Fashion is one of the most environmentally polluting industries.

How do you strive to contribute less to this problem?

I try to use ethical material as much as possible in my work even if it’s something small such as a trim. I also try to be conscious about the number of pieces I produce. For sampling I always use a combination of left over fabrics and old samples.

What is this collection called?

It is called Nostalgia.

What’s the inspiration behind this collection?

I am never far from a sketch book as I’m constantly inspired by things around me so I can jot down any ideas or inspiration. Inspiration for me comes a lot from my travels. I combine a lot of this inspiration to form a story. Usually it involves different elements coming together. I wanted to create something fun and relaxed and minimal for this resort collection.

What’s next in your game plan?

The first is to launch my brand at The Design Collective in Sri Lanka. I am also in the throes of developing the next collection. I also have plans to expand the brand so that I have an E-commerce site as I believe this is a crucial step. I also plan on selling in Australia and internationally. One thing I have learnt from working for so long in the industry is how important each step is in building up a business properly and that involves being patient.

Rome after all was not built in a day! Building a fashion label can be even more challenging! It’s all about believing in yourself and your work while making the right moves and investments to get there. I have an amazing support team that helps me stay positive and focused, especially my mother who has been my biggest support and fan over the years and puts up with all my highs and lows which you tend to have a lot when your in an industry such as this one.