INTERIVEW W // Kasuni Rathnasuriyal

Kasuni keeps Sri Lankan traditions alive one season at a time



Could you introduce yourself?

I am Kasuni RathnasuriyaI, I’m from Sri Lankan living in the U.S. I came to New York in 2012,  I spent my time here and then I went back to Sri Lanka, took a break in 2013 and came back in 2014. Since then I’ve here.

Now what was the main point of coming to America?

Well it for a job contract. I worked for a design company in Sri Lanka and they sent me as a design consultant. So I engaged in design development and product development and some marketing work. So that was my nine to five job. But then, you know, designer job role is very much multiple and paddler today. So I started when I was in Sri Lanka, my own line, KUR. So I started continuing it the same when moved here.

So what led you to create your line and get into design and fashion?

:I'm coming from a typical Srilankan family. We are a little bit of conservative, I must say. My parents told me that I have to do science. So I'm a bio-science drop out. I wanted to go to architecture school, but I didn't and I ended up going to fashion school. That was kind of a disappointment at my house. I could remember that I was going from science to arts and my parents were a bit worried.

Now I look back and I can remember that I used to go shopping with my mom and I used to pick my own fabric. I used to go to seamstress and tell what I wanted as a child. So maybe I had it, but it wasn't my background that I wanted to become a designer. If I were to tell someone, 10 years back or 15 years back that I wanted to become a fashion designer, everyone would be like, “no way”. But then I kind of proved it to my parents, 

At my design school, there was a Italian fashion director who was very strict. I think I learned from him, mostly that this industry is not an easy place. So when I went to my first job after design school, they convinced me that being a designer is tough, there are very few designers. So they offered me a different job. They gave me like a market analyst job (Laughs). I was doing that for some time. Maybe like six, seven, eight months in, I realized that I know I'm not meant for that job. So one day I went home and started KUR. 

So architecture was kind of your first plan, why did you choose not to pursue it? 

Yeah I liked architecture because I always liked the product engineering part of it and I always played with geometric shapes. 



Do you find any parallels between fashion and architecture?

Of course, I like the physics and the chemistry between the two, like a lot of designers. Hussein Chalayan, he uses a lot of his architectural influence in fashion. I always think that everything has been done right? in fashion, everything has been done. What we are doing is re-engineering grains and bringing in collaborators and people with different expertise. We are creating something unique and figuring out how to present these ieas differently. So whenever I engineer a product, it’s always geometrical shapes that I play with. I think that's one of the reasons that I started working with this hand made lace. I like that less is more, other than making it more is more. 

Where do you tend to gravitate to, to find ideas?

I definitely look at streets. it's a ready to wear brand so the streets are the best place to get the idea. You see people and what they want to wear. Like people say, you go to Paris and sit in a cafe and watch people... we have to do people watching. Because at the end of the day we are creating something for the person. So, I look at a lot of streets and trends in a sense. I look at trends but don’t rely on them too much, I think it narrows down your ideas. I look at a lot of,vintage looks like old Sri Lankan clothes. Theres alot of old archives of women who used to wear these beautiful white lace shirts. I look at them and try to make it contemporary.

Do you remember the first piece of clothing you made?

Yeah, I think for my final schoolwork we had to do a collection, that was about six weeks and six looks, This was the final collection but I think I had freedom to do what I liked. I did a white collection. I always like monochrome black and white. That's one of the reasons I still use this lace. So I always liked black and white and those were the first few pieces that I did, 

When you got with the first pieces, were you are excited, were you proud of yourself, disappointed? 

So I did, I think six looks about 10 to 12 pieces. What was more significant though, and gave me confidence was that after the show, there was this lady who came and purchased one of my looks. She really wanted to buy. She said she loved the concept of the Beeralu I did.:"Can I buy this?" So I sold out two pieces and thought and I was very satisfied.



When you got with the first pieces, were you are excited, were you proud of yourself, disappointed? 

So I did, I think six looks about 10 to 12 pieces. What was more significant though, and gave me confidence was that after the show, there was this lady who came and purchased one of my looks. She really wanted to buy. She said she loved the concept of the Beeralu I did.:"Can I buy this?" So I sold out two pieces and thought and I was very satisfied.

What is the significance of this Beeralu lace? 

So I tell you why and how I started KUR initially. Of course that I was fed up with my corporate job as a market analyst, one day I came home and then I said, "No, I want something different in my life." I realized that, I always wanted to create like a phenomenal product. I was thinking how to make my design or product different and I was thinking of this lace which I used to see that ladies I'm doing in Sri Lanka. But it's just such a dying craft, you know? Any handmade product or craft is on the verge of extinction today. What if I make a shirt using this lace? What's the difference of my shirt versus rest of the shirts on the market. That's where I thought , why don't I incorporate something hard to find, so it's not a shortcut, so it could be outstanding or it could be phenomenal.

This lace was introduced to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese in the 17th century And then 18th century, the Dutch helped the industry. First the Portuguese and Dutch came over, and then English came. It was a little light island. But then the lace become very Sri Lankan over the years. So the Portuguese came and taught is this  Then ladies there have been doing it since. Because It's much fun, it's a leisure activity.

So right now there is a community who does this and they're mostly doing accessory stuff. A lot of table mats, table runners, table cloths. I thought, why not incorporate precious lace in this clothing. it's very intense. As you can see, his is how it's been done and that's very intense process (Kasuni looks over at her wooden Bobbin used to make the lace). One yard of lace takes about six to seven hours to complete. So it's a lot of work. That’s when I realized maybe why not use this lace as is to make something contemporary? 

The people making the clothing are these little old Sri Lankan ladies that love doing this. It’s fun, I have become part of this community and I never had a shortage of makers. They know what doing and they know that they have a customer now. So I can sustain the industry and we can save this craft.

So its functional in making something unique but at the same to pay homage to you home and heritage.

Yes, yes.



How do you want the wearer to feel in your clothes?

I'd definitely want them to admire the craft. It's not just a piece of clothing, it coming from us a long process. We usually say when you purchase a KUR product you’re kind of investing in this craftsmanship. It's been done over the years but it's on the verge of extinction. So I feel like the person has to feel apart of this process or its set of values. I think someone that’s wearing my clothing, she is more like a brand ambassador as well a brand spokesperson and presenting all the values of the brand. 

I want that person to feel very comfortable, very chic. This is very contemporary, Just because I use traditional lace that doesn’t mean it can’t be fashionable. You are still contemporary, but you are representing a story.

What are the goals behind KUR?

I want people to hear the story and have representation in certain places, so we can keep this craft going. If not, otherwise you and I will have to go to the museum to see it, 



Check out more of Kasuni's Work //

Instagram // @kurnewyork

Website // http://kurcollection.com/

For what it's worth.

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