owner of one of the leading lifestyle stores in Colombo, Shanth
Fernando hits out at ‘copycats’
By Feizal Samath
His desk is cluttered with papers and books but a dainty coaster
tucked in a corner makes the difference. "I prefer clutter.
I like it that way. I don't like places that are neat and tidy,"
notes Shanth Fernando, fast becoming Sri Lanka's connoisseur of
back in 1984, Fernando - then an importer in Australia of lifestyle
goods - was going in a taxi along a Paris street named 'Rue de Paradis'
(translated …Paradise Road), realising then what a nice name
this would be for a lifestyle store. "In Australia there was
this shop called 'Country Road' named after the song by John Denver,
which I thought was a great name for a store," he recalled.
years have flowed under the bridge since Fernando returned to Sri
Lanka - after living 16 years abroad - and launched Paradise Road
at Flower Road in 1987 as Sri Lanka's first lifestyle store, working
hard to create "Paradise Road" as a well-known brand amongst
locals and foreigners.
Flower Road, the store moved to Dharmapala Mawatha just near the
Town Hall and in the years after that a studio, an art gallery and
an upmarket restaurant were added to the Paradise Road profile.
Any plans for future investments? "Depends on my spirit,"
responds the suave entrepreneur cheerfully while asking a store
employee to put some relaxed and vibrant music on the PA system
instead of a "mournful" CD when it is a bright and sunny
the man, some people see as arrogant and unfriendly, has sought
to come public with his life and work; not to seek publicity for
himself but out of a sense of bitterness after competitors began
copying his work and selling Paradise Road replicas in their stores.
sounds like sour grapes but when you see someone bastardising your
products, you get very, very hurt. Here is something that you worked
all your life for, creating, innovating and hey presto … someone
else comes along, makes the same thing and puts their name on it,"
he told The Sunday Times - his chirpiness turning into frustration
- while dealing with his first ever newspaper interview.
annoys him most is that competitors are not only stealing his ideas
wholesale but going after his suppliers with bigger commissions.
"This is a problem in Sri Lanka. I am not saying everybody
should buy from me. But why can't we all have a vision, an identity
said a country wouldn't be progressive if designs are copied and
sold under different names. "Imitation is flattery but duplication
is obscene," he added, citing a quotation among many he has
'borrowed' over the years from famous authors, artists and thinkers.
am hurt because this is a country with tremendous potential where
everybody should have his or her own vision and identity,"
he added. As a schoolboy, Fernando was a lover of art and a painter
guided by his mother who once took him to famed artist George Keyt
for advice. He won the art prize right through his school career
at S. Thomas', Mount Lavinia. He finished school soon after the
A. Levels when his father died while earlier losing his mother at
15 years. He joined Grants Advertising for a short period as an
artist but was bored with the job.
inheritance was virtually eaten up by the government which nationalised
seven of nine properties I owned. I had to look after myself,"
he recalled. He then worked at a guesthouse as manager at 20 years
and went on to open his own guesthouse at Mount Lavinia a year later,
which today would be pegged a boutique hotel with five rooms.
joined Hotel School and proceeded to the Netherlands in search of
greener pastures and adventure, working in hotels there and later
joining his sister who had migrated to New Zealand.
years later and bitten by the travel bug again, he moved to Australia.
He met his wife while living in Europe, spending his last five years
overseas as a businessman dealing with Sri Lankan merchandise. He
also designed toy products for Magpek Exports Ltd in Sri Lanka,
travelling to Colombo regularly.
connection with Magpek was the one that led him to his homeland.
"Designing is a god-given talent which I have fostered and
that has brought me to what I am today. I firmly and strongly believe
my success has been due to me developing people to produce goods
that are marketable," he added.
says all those who have worked for him as suppliers, "are people
who have knocked on my door with talent and needed a helping hand”.
He has been providing designs to them to produce, raising their
earning capacity to Rs. 50,000 and in some cases Rs. 300,000 a month
in turnover across the country - Kandy, Matale or Dambulla - when
they once barely made Rs. 2,000 - 3,000 a month.
lifestyles designer, who is actively involved in designing all the
products sold at his two stores, works with wood, metal, clay, cement,
steel, brass, iron, ceramics, incense, candles, wax or fabrics.
to Sri Lanka in 1987, he found a vacuum for a good lifestyle store
with Barefoot being the only shop selling home ware. "Barefoot
was doing a good job but was working in only one direction,"
he said. "I have a lot of respect for them. I even sold their
products in Australia."
was different in his first store? It was a very black and white
store working with metal, candles, terracotta, antique furniture,
totally white ceramics and porcelain. Wrapping paper was the only
coloured item at Paradise Road while black and white still remain
his store's identity.
95 percent of the items at the Paradise Road store at Dharmapala
Mawatha are created, designed and made in Sri Lanka. Fernando does
a lot of travelling and research, visiting international trade fairs
and spending a lot on costly lifestyle magazines. With every overseas
trip, he brings back ideas and transforms them into local products
with changes to suit local needs. "I do a sketch of every design
and ask local craftsmen to turn products out of them using their
skills and talent. So it's a two-way process."
Paradise Road clientele is a mix of foreigners and locals. Price
is not a deterrent for a customer if a product is good and attractive.
"We have cupboards that sell for Rs 250,000 and some foreigners
have shipped them even to Switzerland. Chinese antiques have been
bought from me and exported. This is mainly because I chose the
antiques myself in China, in a particular style and got them restored
before bringing them to Sri Lanka."
office, studio, gallery and restaurant at Alfred House Gardens near
the British Council in Colombo are located in what was once the
office of the late Geoffrey Bawa. The world famous architect entrusted
his building shaded by a row of trees to Fernando who wanted to
run a gallery. Paradise Road Galleries is a platform for young and
mature artists from Sri Lanka and overseas.
claims success as a restaurateur too, saying his restaurant is one
of the more successful ones in Colombo. It has been featured in
many overseas magazines. He is essentially a workaholic and wants
to succeed in whatever he does. People see him as arrogant but he
says he doesn't mind being called "names" because "by
living my private life I have the space to accomplish what I want