So, this happened—the Olympic team wore my brand’s clothes to the Tokyo Games. Yep. Five years ago, I set sail from San Francisco to Colombo to reimagine Sri Lankan traditional clothing—making it fresh, friendly and giving it the kind of confident swagger promising a better tomorrow. I didn’t know then, but it was a calling. For context, let me help you picture my two cities and how they sway my mission.
Once I described San Francisco to my dad as the “future of humanity.” It’s where drive, diversity and decency have found their balance. It’s where six-year countdowns to IPOs are set on coffee shop napkins, recycled ones, of course. It’s a city where you wouldn’t be surprised to one day see a high-speed mag-lev train or a hyperloop running parallel to the trolley cars up and down those famous hills. It’s the home base of the progressives who have powered both its Green party mayor to become Governor, and its district attorney to become US Vice President. It’s different from New York, where the magnificence of the city always outshines even its famous residents. In San Francisco, it’s still the people—you can make a name for yourself. There’s still vice, greed and ego, sure. But the unassuming gray-blue clock tower on the Ferry Building, where Embarcadero Street and Market Street meet, keeps its inhabitants in check (and on time) on those grid-laid city blocks. It’s a city where Google’s famous moniker “do no evil” is still the unwritten law. It’s a city where I made lifelong friends. And it’s the city, after a heartbreak, that healed me and set me free for a new life.
Colombo is somewhat like San Francisco in size, population and origin as a port city, just on the other side of the world, off the southern coast of India, overlooking the vast ocean between its beaches. Next stop, Antarctica. Its vibe is closer to the “hang loose” of Hawaii, and its economy just as far behind. In Colombo, a calendar is still something you hang on a wall, not the 15-minute slots by which you schedule your next six months. A place where there are so many “no worries” it would worry a newcomer to the island lifestyle. It’s not cheap, but a modest income still lets you live well. Slowly, I’m seduced by her charms. In Colombo, the grip of parents, privilege, history, religion, race, dogma however, seem stifling and need more airing for my tastes honed in the land-of-the-free-and-the-home-of-the-brave. But, it’s my home town and where after a twenty-year hiatus, I am discovering exceptional and kind people. If San Francisco is the future of humanity, Colombo is just at the brink of finding its footing. My love of Colombo is in her new generation, whose ideas, ambitions and values—akin to the youth of San Francisco—are capable of rocketing the country into a prosperous orbit.
When the idea to reinvent the sarong as a harbinger of a united, thriving Sri Lanka first came, I wasn’t ready to start a fashion company or to dream up runway show finales or meet the panic-inducing, necessary evil of merchandising. My training was more sensible and carpentry-like in Computer Science and Public Policy—the first, dealing with logic and the second, forever wrestling absurdity into logic. But the arrogance and can-do attitude of Silicon Valley had puffed me up over the years. How hard can it be, I asked myself. Quite humbling as it turned out, and expensive too. Especially when you throw in a global pandemic and a deadly terrorist attack into the mix during the first few years of business. But still, we’ve made ends meet. And I know there’s years more of hard labor ahead. So you can see what an endorsement this is for us to dress Team Sri Lanka.
At the risk of waking the sleeping giants of the industry to this quiet revolution I have been plotting, I thought I might take this opportunity to thank my comrades. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. And also, to let you know I’m still alive and kicking—with a generous wife and 1.8 healthy kids, Marguerite, Leo and TBD—in a sarong in Colombo. I’d love to hear from you.