We hear countless stories of people who decided to listen to their hearts and chase their dreams. Some fail. Some reach heights. Some take time to be recognized. But, there’s something they all have in common – A strong belief in their dreams and the will to never give up! That’s right. Every inspiring story talks of sweat, tears and hard work. They boast of unwavering faith and determination. Life has beaten every successful person black and blue before they sat on their throne to rule their empire.
And, here are three such lesser-known stories that prove chasing your dream never leaves you astray! We guarantee you that you will start hustling to work on your own dreams once you set the magazine down.
Dhananji Jayakody – Dhananji Jayakody Luxury Designs
As a kid, Dhananji was never into sitting down and being with the books. She was always the mischievous kid who did or thought something different that wasn’t really ‘approved of’ by most. When she decided to study and be a part of the fashion industry, there were many relatives and friends who questioned why she was getting into this field and doubted what good it will bring. However, this determined young lady felt blessed to have supportive parents who gave two thumbs up for her decision since they knew she finally found a path that she was very passionate of.
“I joined Lanka Institute of Fashion Technology (LIFT) in 2011, completed the Advanced Diploma in Fashion Designing and graduated with First Class Honours. I loved the choice I made to explore creativity instead of following the norm. After deciding to study further and get an experience with the international fashion industry, I joined LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore and completed BA (Hons) in Fashion Design and Textiles with First Class Honours. At LASALLE, I specialized in Women’s Wear. It was a challenge to learn and cater to different standards and expectations, but it was a great experience overall.”
Ever since she stepped into the fashion field, she dreamt of becoming an independent bridal and occasion wear designer. However, negative forces in the form of malicious words attempted to crumble all her aspirations. Despite having a resilient support system, there were indeed other people who tried to convince Dhananji that she wouldn’t make it big and being a bridal designer wouldn’t bring her success. Nonetheless, this aspiring designer listened to her heart and made sure she worked towards her goals!
The label ‘Dhananji Jayakody Luxury Designs’ caters to brides who aren’t afraid to explore and try different styles and techniques. She claims that it’s all about designing the most special outfit a girl will wear in her life and the memories she’ll make in that particular outfit. Dhananji and her thriving team of enthused artisans work towards creating that special dress, which will not only make the client stand out, but will also represent who they are. Her designs, with the various techniques and embellishments used on unique fabrics, are considered to be the focal elements that draw attention towards her label. This bespoke label aims to deliver luxury, simplicity and elegance through its designs and designing process. The brand clearly believes that it’s highly significant that the fabrics chosen play a huge role in telling a story.
“Different cutting techniques and embellishment methods add a unique touch to the garments. Each fabric we choose will be used in different ways and in a manner that they will not only have a story to tell, but will also show how something so simple can be transformed into something so elegant and luxurious. I don’t draw my inspirations from just one thing. They come from various aspects of daily life such as travel, interior – You name it! I also try to stay up-to-date with bridal wear designs through extensive trend researches every year so that I would have a wider insight on colours, silhouettes and fabrics.”
Dhananji rejoices catering to a remarkable clientele, and she says that offering one-of-a-kind, exclusive pieces to every bride is the key to a growing demand. She listens to the requirements of her brides and adds her own exceptional touch of splendour to ensure the designs suit her clients in every possible way. While she has worked on countless bridals, she particularly reminisces about the most unforgettable bronze bridal gown she worked on for Shabana Mubarak. The dress had demanded a lot of hard work as well as immeasurable lengths of lace applique. Although the process was quite challenging, the team was overjoyed witnessing the extremely gorgeous outcome! Dhananji enjoys dressing up her brides as she finds them all special. The brides’ glowing faces when they see their dream gown for the first time fuels her happiness and her love towards her job.
“Considering the amount of competition that surrounds us, it is quite challenging to be a growing label. However, hard work and dedication truly make a difference. There are many new talents in the industry and having a unique selling point has the power to make you stand out.”
Dhananji stands by one belief – No matter what comes your way, nothing will work unless you do! It doesn’t matter how hard the day is or how tough the work is, the passion is what keeps you going. With this in mind, she’s currently sketching new plans to cater to a wider market. Since luxury bridal is only sought-after by a niche market, she’s motivated to create a RTW bridal collection that will act as an affordable range for every bride with a dream wedding gown in her mind. She also intends to expand the label’s design studio space to offer a better experience for her brides.
Melanie Wijesinghe – Melache
Just after the civil war had ended in 2009, Sri Lanka was blessed with a new ray of hope. That’s when Melache was born. At the time of their launch, they stood as a lone boutique with the concept of hosting local designers, making them the first-ever designer boutique with around 10 Sri Lankan brands. The obstacles faced by this maturing designer boutique at that period were many. The concept of wearing Sri Lankan designer brands at the time was alien to most. They had to convince the local audience to believe in their novel concept and also in the potential and creativity of the local designers. Simultaneously, Melache had to guide the local designers to step up to a professional level. Changing the mindset of both the clients and the designers were a challenge. And, they had to do this with minimum support.
Additionally, they also had their pricing strategy done wrong. This is a struggle that has never been acknowledged by any before. By trying to give designers the benefit of retailing with them, this resolute boutique had kept ‘Melache’ margins to a very minimum. Whilst trying to grow their sales with a minimum margin, the team had to face losses for many years. Although the designer name brands and their sales profits were hitting high numbers, Melache was making its way to the bottom. This was one of the most difficult times the boutique has faced.
“To be honest, we would’ve been better off exiting this concept and moving on to a more profitable model with overseas brands that brought in more revenue. Despite the losses, we continued this concept to support the designers who were on board with us. I can’t even begin to describe the hardships we faced by trying to be honest and ethical in our strategy. On a personal note, I didn’t have much support or encouragement. My family always thought I was mad building others and not myself. Many lessons were learnt. We’ve never let anyone down during our journey. Most may forget how they started, but because we’ve always been true to our conscious, we are at a peaceful, happy and growing stage in our business. In this industry, we see how some people use others to get to where they are. I’ve seen all of it – The good, the bad and the ugly. During the initial years, we had to put up with a lot of people – Designers and their demands, other external stake holders who tried to abuse our concept, etc. Another challenge was having to take responsibility for the mistakes done by other designers. When orders weren’t done well by them, our team had to step in to sort issues and some of them would hide away. Thinking of that period, all I have to say is that it’s been quite a rough phase. Now, we really enjoy building the brands we retail. Aphrodite Myrtle is our key brand for evening wear and bridals which is headed by me and my amazing team.”
The talent behind the concept of Melache believes that their greatest accomplishment is contributing to and changing the local fashion industry. While the fashion market was crowded with standard designs and overseas brands, Melache had managed to create a concept that embraced local designers and brands. Melanie is also known to have won a number of awards for her entrepreneurship.
One year after Melache’s launch, there had been many others who had come forward with the same concept. Currently, there are many boutiques offering business platforms to designers who have launched themselves into a market where local brands are embraced by everyone. Melanie disregards competition and claims that she doesn’t even follow or check on other designers in the industry. The team likes to enjoy their work and focus on their own path. As Melanie lives in London, 40% of her clients are based in the UK and other regions. Neglecting the worry of competition has helped her grow in peace. She says, “The world is full of abundance.” She considers their principle of charging reasonably is the key to Melache’s success, and tells us that their humbleness and professionalism has aided them massively.
This exclusive boutique kick-started Melache Bridal Lounge in 2012 and the collection exhibited some extravagant pieces from renowned bridal designers, although they refused to have a go at bridal initially. They had the opportunity to talk to these designers and get them aboard at their very first show with Brides Of Sri Lanka bridal show held at Hilton.
“I maintain my signature style through my own brand where I don’t deviate from my signature for client requirements. If we have a client with a different idea, then that’s executed under the Melache studio. I love to stick to classics. Trendy is a word that’s not followed by us. By adding classics to a modern twist, we’ve always achieved to look contemporary, yet timeless. Designing a bridal is such a personal thing. I truly feel excited throughout the entire process and it’s rewarding when clients see things outside the box.”
Talk about ditching a wedding dress worth 2.2 million done by a global designer! Melanie holds a bride close to her heart owing to the fact that she opted to wear one of Melache’s reasonably priced gown instead of the design customized for her by the celebrated designer, Zuhair Murad.
“Being honest and ethical have been two of the most important factors that contributed to our success. In addition, being accessible to my clients all over the world has grown their confidence in us. Being humble is something upcoming Sri Lankan entrepreneurs must take note of. My brand, Aphorodite Myrtle, is gaining popularity in the UK. Being the only British Sri Lankan designer in a boutique where most of the high-end Indian designers retail has been an achievement already. Our plan is to grow here, in the UK, as well as globally. In Sri Lanka, we are anyway having a very peaceful organic growth and will maintain that. And, something we always do is building our team members along with us. Their growth is very much endorsed to our future growing plans.”
Mudara de Zoysa – Stelazo
There’s always that one kid who grows up drawing on each and every wall of a house. The particular little one we are talking about now climbed chairs to draw on areas of the wall she couldn’t reach! Now, she’s known for reaching heights and is recognized as one of the most wanted bridal designers Sri Lanka has seen. Being drawn in to the world of art and design since birth, Mudara found herself immersed in a love for details, colours and prints as she bloomed into a young woman. As she transformed into an ambitious lady, she simply wanted to make use of her talent in art, fashion and design.
After the close of her O/Ls in 2009 at Musaeus College, she joined AOD with the aim of becoming an expert in the field of fashion. When she successfully completed her foundation year by topping the batch, she began her BA in Fashion Design. In 2013, she stepped out with a First Class and as the batch topper, scoring the highest marks among the students of both AOD as well as University of Northumbria, UK.
Post-graduation, she was recruited as a designer by one of the most acclaimed design centres in Sri Lanka – MAS Active Nirmana of MAS Holdings that designs for Nike, Columbia, RLX, Lulu Lemon, etc. While working at MAS Nirmana, it dawned upon her that she needed to explore more paths in life than being confined to designing what an employer offers.
After working at the renowned company for nearly a year, she resigned from her job to start something on her own and follow her desire in contributing towards a difference in fashion. The experience at MAS offered her great exposure. At the time of resignation, she was designing for the Sri Lankan Cricket Team, together with another designer. Knowing that she had resigned, she began to receive freelance design assignments. Eventually, with more exploration of the Sri Lankan market, the brand STELAZO was born.
“The name STELAZO was created by myself, with the help of my father, after getting inspired by two of my all-time favorite designers. Although the brand initially focused on hybrid, sporty casual wear clothing, I realized that there was a huge demand for sarees and bridal wear. I was able to identify the loop holes and wished to offer a solution by introducing new trends to the market. Introducing embroidered sarees was our first step. As our products grew more popular, we combined embroidery with prints as well. Now, Sri Lankan brides have poured so much love on us, and our embroidered sarees have become a trend in the island. We also offer a premium “Beeralu” range of bridal outfits through which we’ve been able to touch the traditional Sri Lankan roots whilst supporting the local artisans. Our sarees are designed in a way that they could be worn for any occasion without making one look underdressed or overdressed.”
Stelazo focuses on designing simple, standard silhouettes which would highlight the intricate details of their sarees. They ensure that even the embellishments are well-balanced and are neither less nor more. Mudara believes a bridal outfit should always be timeless.
This devoted bridal designer takes her time to advise all her clients on how to choose the perfect saree colour to match their skin tone, while also taking into account their personal preferences. What more? They are shown different draping techniques that go best with the saree they choose. The brides are also given tips on how to accessorize in order to look their finest. As a strict policy, they make sure to handover the outfits at least two weeks ahead of the big day. For the customers who are unable to visit their studio, Stelazo offers free island-wide delivery! And for the overseas clients, the design house arranges online discussions and offer a one-day service in which the tailoring is completed within a day.
“We maintain our signature touch whilst giving preference to the clients’ requirements. The very first thing we tell our clients is that they should always go with the outfit of their dreams and not deviate due to social or other pressures. We want them to always speak out from their hearts. We follow international designers and get inspired through their incredible designs. For us, each client is unique and some have become friends for life. We created renowned lyricist Manuranga Wijesekara’s wife, Dilthara Jayalath’s bridal attire on her wedding day, and I must say that it was ‘the’ masterpiece created by Stelazo over the years. She inspired and motivated me to go out of my way to create a very unique piece with beeralu lace and intricate embellishments. The support and motivation I get from our clients has truly helped me to bring this venture to where it stands in the Sri Lankan fashion industry today.”
Mudara is grateful for her supportive family that has always provided her with encouragement and motivation. She believes that anything is possible if one tries and that failing is a part of success. She states that challenges make a person strong and will teach great lessons. Her future plans are currently under wraps, so let’s hope she comes with a bang to surprise us all!