She has to drag herself out of bed every time her phone goes beep beep in the morning. It maybe 7 am in Sri Lanka but it was two in the morning in UK. Melanie Wijesinghe runs Melache from Weybridge.
“I’ve been living in the UK for 17 years and when I first started Melache I spent more time in Sri Lanka than UK,” says Melanie. Later maternal responsibilities called her back to the UK. And with the technological advances such as Viber and WhatsApp operating from the UK seemed more practical.
When Melanie first started off, it wasn’t all hunky-dory. “My family didn’t have a fashion background. My brother is a PhD in IT. They were all academic and weren’t very supportive,” says Melanie, smiling, explaining why she first studied biology, then moved on to marketing before switching to fashion designing when her family finally budged. She describes herself as a very private person.
She started Melache six years ago, when Sri Lankan designer wear displayed in boutiques was a concept virtually unheard of. In fact, it was the first boutique to showcase Sri Lankan designer wear, with the objective of promoting Sri Lankan brands.
“Except for Buddhi Batiks, KT Brown and Michael other Sri Lankan designers were virtually unheard of, back in 2010 when I started Melache.” Department stores such as ODEL only showcased foreign brands at the time.
Now Melanie even does bridal work from the UK, all online. “I don’t have a work time,” says Melanie, not complaining. “Poya day, Saturday, Sunday, everyday is a workday for me.” She admits that it’s a daunting task. “But I see it as an opportunity to update myself in the new trends of the fashion industry.”
Speaking about her own brand Aphrodite Myrtle that creates feminine and elegant attire including bridals, she says, “It’s sophisticated, modern and chic and appreciates timeless classic beauty but makes it contemporary to fit a woman’s modern image.”
Melanie is not in it for the money. She is in it for the passion. It was the passion to establish something truly Sri Lankan in the Sri Lankan fashion industry that makes her carry on. “It’s not just for me, but for all of those involved in Melache.” She explained that many others depend on Melache.
Melanie’s long-term goal was to open a Melache in the UK to build a brand in London. “I wanted to start an orphanage, but funding was a problem,” says Melanie. Melanie hopes that Melache would be the answer to her funding problem. She has a few projects lined up for next year, with this in mind.
But if Sri Lankan designs are to be taken to UK, Melache would have to undergo a facelift. Admitting there is only a limited market for Sri Lankan designs in UK, Melanie explained that the designers would have to undergo training in colour aspect. “The designs are essentially the same, but colours differ.”
She explained that Sri Lankans have tan skin and consequently opt for warmer colours. Sri Lankan bridals range from ivory to gold. “But Europeans are fair in complexion and prefer white.”
Melache designs are predominantly marketed for Sri Lankans. But, Melanie explained that Sri Lanka has a demographically limited design market. She explained that, although Sri Lanka was first driven towards a production culture, countries such as Vietnam and China are now better production centers with cheaper labour. “It’s a niche market. Besides, it’s still cheaper to import foreign designer brands than to design and produce in Sri Lanka.”
According to Melanie, the Sri Lankan designer market is almost saturated. Melanie warned that in a few more years when there are more designers haggling over the same niche market designers would find it difficult to survive.
“India can afford to have ‘India Fashion Week’, they have a massive population. It’s a huge market.” But, according to Melanie, the best approach for the Sri Lankan fashion industry is to infiltrate the global market with designing and production going hand in hand. “It has to be a revenue-oriented market,” says Melanie.
(Pics by Venura Chandramalitha)