Karen Macleod

The scope of creative education is continually evolving to encompass a larger expanse of innovative outputs. Design plays a critical role in many industries from fashion retailing to advertising to FMCG while being recognized as a key commandeer for innovation. ARTRA’s Iconic Woman, Karen MacLeod has played a critical role as an educationist in this field as the Principal for the past decade of Academy of Design, Colombo; one of Sri Lanka’s most future-ready design school in partnership with Northumbria University UK. Under the guidance of Karen MacLeod along with President of AOD Linda Speldewinde, ARTRA’S Iconic Woman 2018, AOD has been instrumental in providing and strengthening the scope of art and creative education in Sri Lanka.

Karen MacLeod, was trained in fashion & textiles at Newcastle School of Fashion, & based in France for more than 20 years. She has successfully held the position as design director & freelance consultant for womenswear labels, creating concepts & designing for prêt a porter & luxury collections. Her most personal project was the concept, design, manufacture & distribution of her luxury womenswear label Mr & Mrs MacLeod which sold to some of the world’s most discerning fashion retailers such as Barneys, Joseph, Browns, Biffi & Victoire. Karen came to Sri Lanka in 2010 joining the Academy of Design, Colombo as Principal. In her years in Sri Lanka at AOD, in addition to strengthening curricula at the school and developing industrial relationships in the field, Karen has also worked on numerous projects including Sri Lanka Design Festival, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Sri Lanka, The Island Craft Project, Design for Sustainable Development, and the recent retail venture Urban Island. Karen’s pioneering approach to creative education stems from her academic background coupled with industrial expertise, so in conversation with her, we unravel the scope of creative education in Sri Lanka, while celebrating her impressive milestones as Principal of AOD, in cultivating manifold career opportunities to students across industries locally and internationally.

Q | What is the scope of art & creative education in Sri Lanka?

A | The scope for creative education is one with great potential. More and more industries are understanding the power of design, and are building design thinking and practice in to how they do business. The demand for creative thinkers and designers is high and growing, and not just in traditional design-related businesses like the apparel and retail industries, but across the board. Art and creative education teaches skills that can be applied to any business, which gives it a unique edge.

Q | Under your supervision, how did AOD approach art & creative education, and relate its relevance to industrial contexts for the benefit of students?

A | When we started our journey at AOD, Linda Speldewinde, the founder and owner of AOD, had a clear vision for the school and wanted to establish a unique DNA for AOD. She had already introduced Sustainability & Heritage craft as projects and wanted this to become part of AOD’s DNA. We made a 5 year plan strengthening the curricula with a stronger focus on sustainability, craft and collaborations with the industry. We wanted AOD to be recognised as a regional leader that could inspire local, regional and international students and industry alike.

Working with AOD’s faculty, a powerful mix of local and international designers and professionals, we set about creating a unique design school capable of shining at an international level. It was a team effort; my role was to set goals for the team that were achievable step-by-step, and work with the team, motivating and inspiring them, building from within.

We introduced projects that comprised heritage textiles and artisanal techniques, and launched collaborative projects with the industry across all our design disciplines, giving students a unique insight of how high-tech and low-tech design processes can come together to create a unique product or story while giving our students and the design industry the chance to connect and interact, leading in to our very successful annual internship placement project and our ability to successfully place all our students in their first design jobs within months of graduation.

AOD’s job doesn’t end once our students become graduates. Mentoring young designers become part of AOD’s DNA, guiding our graduates after their education, helping them grow as designers and creatives, and more actively and effectively contribute to their respective industries.

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7th April, 2020 Applied Art