STEERING TRADITIONAL HANDCRAFT RESPONSIBLY
UDAK by Umanga Kulasekara
Sri Lanka’s traditional handcrafting industry is one that’s found its place on a map through its genuine authenticity and originality through conventional designs. From handloom to beeralu lace, the craft and textile art in Sri Lanka has garnered much regard not only for its artistry but also through its sustainable mediums and practices. Around 6,500 handlooms are being run in Sri Lanka and we find UDAK, by designer Umanga Kulasekara one of the most celebrated fashion brands among it. The Sri Lankan handloom textile industry received utmost appreciation in the 1970s, has quickly become major lifestyle statements for both national and international consumers. The handloom industry to this date, maintains a significant demand since its inception, due to its cultural artefacts, heritage and design capabilities. UDAK’s designs and mode of expressions through fashion and traditional hand-weaving practices strive to sustain and produce.
UDAK, founded by Umanga Kulasekera, presents to you a diverse range of evocative apparel that aligns with the minimalist trend embraced by the fashion industry. Carefully handcrafted with the mastery of experience, these pieces stand on their own as extensions of one’s personality and are imbibed with Sri Lankan heritage of hand-weaving and its legacy. In conversation with Umanga, we comprehend the elements and components of her successful operations while celebrating traditional hand-weaving practices and its responsible initiatives.
Q | From the perspective of a responsible fashion designer in the contemporary industry, what inspired you to choose handloom as the primary clothing material?
A | The beauty of being a designer lies in having the ability to instigate positive changes through our work. I consider hand-weaving as a creative expression that is unique and rich in heritage. A visit to one of the artisans in Ududumbara and his introduction to hand-weaving inspired me to be a designer and an entrepreneur with a cause. UDAK was originated as a mission to be a voice and to support the local artisans who are going through many hardships and to educate consumers about the importance of cherishing Sri Lankan textiles and art. Also, with the rise of multiple brands and products around the world, it will come to a point where consumers will require authenticity from each brand. As a brand born in Sri Lanka, UDAK aspires to offer essentials and classics which incorporate the Sri Lankan heritage.
Q | How does UDAK contribute to the sustaining of fashion trends and the detriments of the practice of fast-fashion movements?
A | UDAK aspires to re-contextualize classic and essential items in the modern world through fit, fabrication and clean silhouette to make a truly trans-seasonal wardrobe. Trans-seasonal flexibility is paramount for the brand aesthetic as consumers look for investment pieces that will adapt from home to office and office to occasion. In addition to Ududumbara hand-woven textile, we create sustainable fashion using rescued textile waste sourced from reputable mills and manufacturers sold in second-hand markets. UDAK reuses these materials through upcycling, reimagining the use of these textile waste with classical and versatile designs.
Q | Can you share with us UDAK’s style components?
A | I have introduced 3 product categories so far: UDAK, UDAK ESSENTIALS, and UDAK man. UDAK ESSENTIALS focuses on trans-seasonal classics such as basic shirts, bottoms, dresses, and T-shirts whereas UDAK offers an authentic extension of Sri Lankan heritage and exclusive limited pieces incorporating Ududumbara weaving. UDAK man is a new category that was introduced in 2019 with the ethics-focuses production model; the range is produced in small batches. UDAK man offers staple shirts with attention to minimal details with each launch. These are pieces that a minimalist could relate to as each design gives them the freedom to adapt the styling to fit any occasion.
Q | Your brand is based on the products of the Ududumbara artisans. What is your stance regarding brand humanization, and how do you think it influences and interests the consumers of your brand?
A | “Humans connect with, relate to, and trust other humans.” UDAK was originated with a brand personality to make an honest connection with its customers by showing them how and where the products are manufactured and what the brand stands for. For UDAK, Transparency is vital to earn consumer loyalty as they have the right to know who made their clothing and the ethical process behind production. And as for the consumers, when they make a purchase, they know that they are supporting an artisan living in a rural area and that their purchase will help to bring change to them.
Sri Lanka’s fashion industry is not acknowledged as an export-oriented fashion production base but is globally and widely recognized for its rich craft-centric industry which comprises handloom, batik, beeralu lace and embroidery. These mediums of craft in the fashion industry have been significant in the practices that provide income and occupations to rural areas. In this way, we find UDAK caters to the artisans of Sri Lankan traditional craft and textile industries while presenting to the society a responsible way of life. UDAK is a brand with a cause. It not only strives to create sustainable fashion through the use of recycled textile waste but also aspires to recognize and bring positive change into the lives of Ududumbara artisans.