The New Local

  • Sri Lanka has solutions and it is coming from the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of its people


As we emerge from these turbulent times, we find ourselves more connected to our roots than ever before, knowing that the change we need is in our hands and it is up to us to make our home, Sri Lanka, work better. There is always a promise of a good tomorrow for those who can envision opportunities. What we envision, is backed by creativity, design, innovation and driven by a new generation that champions ideas, with eyes set on the horizon. There is new light breaking out there, but we have got to be ready to be entrepreneurial, embracing home, yet building beyond borders. It is hope, but hope that is active. The New Local is a vision that is about creative entrepreneurship, design and innovation. It takes the intrinsically homebound viewpoint of our current post-pandemic reality and bridges it to the new global opportunities, harnessing ideas to fulfil real market needs. The following is an interview with of AOD Chairperson Linda Speldewinde on ‘The New Local’ vision that champions design for export as a key solution.




Q: You’ve just announced MBFW 2021 with the idea ‘The New Local’. Can you explain what this means? ‘The New Local’ is the fresh state of mind that we can all adopt to overcome the challenges of this post-pandemic climate and actually thrive in it. This fresh state of mind stems from where we’re all more-or-less centralised to our localities and more connected to our homes than ever before. While some see this as a limiting, negative situation, we’re seeing it as a great starting point to make Sri Lanka strong again. Rediscovering the resources, knowledge, practices and talent available here is the beginning of connecting them to the needs of the global market. This is The New Local; looking inwards, but with a view of finding solutions for the problems and gaps you see in the world outside. We all have to become The New Local if we want to build Sri Lanka back. ‘The New Local’ captures the optimism and hope that is so necessary for the moment but in a context of understanding the realities too – it is a call for an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s a vision that shows that the solutions are here in Sri Lanka.


Q: How do you maintain a mindset of optimism in the current context? What allows you to still see the opportunities? There is no right or wrong answer but there’s always a different lens to view the world, through the lens of cynicism or optimism and that’s up to each individual. Our call is a call for creativity and for entrepreneurship and that certainly requires a unique lens. We believe in the power of all this and design. We’ve seen how design has created more employment and added value in our exports; we’ve spearheaded several movements like ‘Innovation Island’ and ‘Share Sri Lanka’ where creative thinking has bridged local talent to global opportunities; we’re lucky enough to be surrounded by the inspiring young talent of AOD, the traditional know-how of artisans across the island and resilient industries such as apparel, and entrepreneurs who are always pushing boundaries. This is why we remain optimistic. We know that creativity in our country is the key, and we’re confident about tomorrow because we have what can translate creativity to innovation and that’s design. This is not about being blindly optimistic; there’s a lot to be done, and just having access to design won’t help us. Many initiatives led by AOD are doing some of the groundwork needed at the moment, and we’re trying to inspire others to join us with The New Local.


Q: How is design the key? Can you give examples? When we started working with artisans over 10 years ago, we used the design process to identify what markets were truly looking for; we used designers to bring this market relevance to the skills and mastery that traditional craftspeople had. The outcomes of this are what you see on FMLK and Urban Island retail ventures today; the same skills, same materials but higher value and relevance to global markets; this is the design difference we’ve spoken about for years. Similarly, we’re now using the design process to add value to agriculture; a pilot project in Mandaramnuwara is leading the way to demonstrate how agricultural produce can be grown, packaged and delivered with a clear understanding of what the markets are looking for. This is why design is key. Because creativity for the sake of creating something new is not the answer; Design, which rationalises the creative instinct with market research and understanding people’s needs, is what can give us solutions; it also sets the premise for design for export, which is a big topic in The New Local vision.


Q: Can you explain more about the focus on ‘design for export’? See, the whole world went through a uniting experience during the height of the pandemic, where we were stripped of our wants and restricted to our needs. The data and insights that came to light from this collective experience have been so interesting, and it is clear that our thinking and consumption patterns have shifted permanently. The world is new. Its people are new. What do these new people in this new world want? Design for export is where we use the design process, as I explained in the previous answer, to respond to these very new needs of the global market. We can’t keep doing the same old exports that we did for the world before, and expecting results. We must design new exports for this new world. The New Local is all about that.


Q: What are the opportunities you see for creative people with The New Local at MBFWSL 2021? The New Local is a vision that cuts across many spheres from fashion, apparel, tourism, agriculture, and other SME industries like crafts and ceramics. Although fashion and apparel take the centre stage at MBFW 2021, many of the other industries and sectors mentioned above are very much woven into the details, painting a wholesome picture and work done throughout the year and beyond. So, the opportunities for creative people are many. Whether you’re an artisan, designer, merchandiser, weaver, illustrator, manufacturer or artist, there is a platform for you with The New Local. We’ve just rolled out an open call for creatives to engage with The New Local vision, particularly those connecting to export, and it’s exciting to see how people are responding to it.


Q: What can we expect to see at MBFWSL where The New Local will premier? Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Sri Lanka 2021 will launch The New Local vision with three runways that embrace the best of Sri Lanka’s fashion and apparel capabilities with a focus on exports to a new post-pandemic world; a really inspiring mix of craft, design, sustainability and innovation. AOD is presenting it, Powered by Dimo, at the Colombo Innovation Tower on 10, 11 and 12 December with some fantastic partners like Kess, Kevin Murphy, Gelish by British Cosmetics and the Wijeya Newspapers.


Q: How can people engage with The New Local? Although the seats are limited to these shows, we’re really pushing digital engagement and opening up the event for all creatives from fashion designers, artists, photographers, and entrepreneurs to manufacturers and artisans to take part by sharing their work and joining the conversation on The New Local, and the power of using design for export. Log in to our official social channels and websites to find out more. The New Local doesn’t stop at MBFW; it’s just the beginning. If you think your work or business embodies The New Local, get in touch with us at AOD on +94 77 572 7772. We’ve got work to do together, to build Sri Lanka back better, stronger and more empowered. Join us in our vision that uses design, creativity and innovation to celebrate home and create opportunities beyond borders.