A passion for creativity and originality saw the birth of Melache, a boutique store dedicated to showcasing the work of local designers. Situated off Duplication Road in Bambalapitiya, an area strewn with shops full of mass-produced outfits, Melache stands out for its drive to promote the creativity of Sri Lankan designers.
Melache is as much an art gallery as a boutique. Each piece is individually designed and created using handpicked raw materials. Walking through this store is an experience of fresh imaginations- an elegant dress of intricate gold on white, a smart black skirt of perfect cut, a flowery blouse with a delicate touch of bohemian were only some of my discoveries. The collections at Melache range from chic evening wear to smart office wear to refreshing casuals, in an array of fabrics- linens, handlooms, natural silks and gauze- of muted earthtones, sparkly hues and reflections of nature, and even a wide selection of men’s wear.
Exclusively available at Melache are designs by ten professional Sri Lankan designers who have made a name for themselves in the industry. “We are a team. We believe in the concept of Melache and in making a change in Sri Lanka,” says Melanie Wijesinghe, the store’s Managing Director. These designers are professionals who have obtained educational qualifications in their field and chosen fashion as their careers. Most of them have won awards for their designs and have the potential to be known globally, said Melanie.
Melache is “a big strength” to local designers, says designer Dimuthu Sahabandu, whose collections are exclusively available at the store. It is “a gateway for new designers” to reach the market, says Gihan Ediriweera, whose collections highlight artistic clothing for women above the age of 30, speaking of “the freedom” given to designers to explore their creativity without the constraints imposed by traditional retail stores.
Launched in March 2010, Melache has seen a steady growth and established a loyal customer base, said Melanie. It is the originality of the clothing available at Melache that attracts the “fashion-conscious audiences” of Sri Lanka. Some customers have even confessed to going to the extreme of keeping Melache a secret, afraid that the store will lose its uniqueness, Melanie adds with a laugh. But the limited number of pieces produced of each design and the continuously updated collections ensures that each customer is offered something new, she explains.
Competing with major stores that buy garments in stock lots and sell them for a relatively cheaper price is a challenge, said Melanie. Clothes at Melache are priced reasonably she said, explaining that their casual wear items are available at Rs. 800 onwards while their more elaborate evening wear is priced up to Rs. 12,000.
“Time, effort and skill have a price,” explained Kasuni Rathnasuriya, whose popular collection Kur is exclusively available at Melache. ‘Be one of a kind’, the tag line of her collection, echoes the vision of this novel boutique.Fabrics like natural silk and handmade materials like handloom and lace are expensive and the production labour intensive, explained designer Ramona Oshini Jayawardena. Melache is also strict about quality control, she explained, adding that only the best quality fabrics and sewing is used in the creation of every piece available in the store.
Cavemen dressed to protect themselves from the elements, and as humans evolved clothing became an adornment, a means of beautification. Today, fashion has merged with activism and become a mode of expression of the wearer’s taste, artistry and beliefs. Melache expands on this concept, giving Sri Lankans an opportunity to make a statement through their attire.
Clothing is not just about putting something on, explained Melanie. What contribution do I make by choosing to wear this? What is the story behind this piece? These are questions the educated consumer raises, she explained.Kasuni’s collection Kur,which incorporates traditional lace made by local beeralu and crotchet artisans into contemporary designs, is geared towards empowering women and supporting local crafts.
Melache aims to uplift the situation of local designers who are ignored by many local customers clamouring for foreign labels. This negative attitude towards local talent is changing.Sri Lankans should give a chance to local designers and value the garment for its design and quality without comparing it to mass-produced clothing,said Ramona.The internet and fashion magazines have exposed the younger generations to fashion and they are looking for “newness”, said Gihan. With the many fashion shows that are being held in the island, Sri Lanka has the potential to develop into a focal point of the Asia Pacific region, he added.