Sri Lankan designer prominently featured in Vogue
Sri Lankan designer Amish Wijesekera, the first winner of Reference Studios’s Reference Incubator prize, has been prominently featured in the celebrated US fashion magazine Vogue.
He has presented his work at the phygital Reference Festival in Berlin earlier this autumn alongside 032c, Ottolinger, Juliana Huxtable, and more renowned artists, musicians, and designers.
The magazine says, “In the flurry of IRL and URL events, shows, and appointments, one can easily gloss over diamonds in the rough. But even in a chaotic phygital fashion month, Amish Wijesekera’s work stands out.”
“He’s the first winner and he is also exactly what we have been looking for; he represents every single aspect of the program when we first set together with Hans Ulrich Obrist three years ago,” said Reference Studios founder Mumi Haiati.
“What we had in mind was to really support and enable underrepresented talent from around the world with a sustainable approach as a foundation. I think he represents just that.”
Wijesekera’s collection tackles ideas that mainstream fashion wrestles with—identity, multiculturalism, sustainability, and gender—with beautiful and emotional strength.
He spent much of 2020’s lockdowns in Sri Lanka with his family, using the experience to fuel a new creative process.
“I was kind of stuck at home, but then I started cleaning up and found all my mom’s saris. They had been there for all these years in her cupboard and she would wear them like once a year, [and they were] like rotting away. I thought, let’s use what’s around me,” he said.
“So I cut up all my mom’s saris and turned them into more tailored pieces.”
Wijesekera also restored some of his grandmother’s saris, adding embroidery and hand-painting, in other pieces.
Because of the pandemic, many of Sri Lanka’s artisans and factories were also suffering.
Wijesekera notes that the country, a massive manufacturing hub for fashion, has also become a repository for its waste, with companies sending tons of textile waste to the island.
His solution was to work with artisans on creating one-of-a-kind knits.
“Sometimes I feel like the artisans are treated like machines,” he says.
“They have years and years of knowledge, craftsmanship, and skill, and they never get to show their creativity or skill. I would give them a rough idea, but I said there is no right or wrong way to make it.”
The collection was then modeled by local Sri Lankans who Wijesekera scouted on Instagram.
With the support of Reference Studios and its partner Slam Jam, Wijesekera’s reach is going well beyond Sri Lanka.
As the winner of the Reference Incubator prize, he will receive three months of P.R. assistance, a spot in Reference Studios’s showroom, and all the resources Slam Jam has to offer.
Plus, there was his virtual inclusion in the Reference Festival alongside other designers and artists like Ottolinger, Juliana Huxtable, 032C, and techno musician Max Kobosil’s new collection in partnership with Antonioli 44 Label Group.
“We were very happy this year to build a bridge between fashion week and the art week [in Berlin],” says Haiati, “There has always been a distance between the different worlds, but for us, they belong together and they can nourish each other.”
The same could be said for the divide between local and global fashion, but thanks to a flurry of international support, Wijesekera seems poised to make it wherever he wants to set up shop.