Rewarding entrepreneurial skills
By Madhushala Senaratne, Pic by Berty Mendis

Anything to do with fashion is exciting. Be it fashion designing, fashion promotion or fashion publishing, as we've come to realize, this is also a growing and dynamic industry. But here's the issue.

You might be an absolutely brilliantly creative person, but if you are to succeed in this increasingly competitive sector, you need a bit of business skills and entrepreneurial ability. And if you think you've got that, here's something for you.

A British Council initiative, the International Young Fashion Entrepreneur award (IYFE), seeks to champion and celebrate the importance of creative entrepreneurs working in the field of fashion. Note the keyword: ENTREPRENEUR, not fashion, meaning although you may be actively involved as a fashion designer, the main focus would be on your entrepreneurial skills.

This year would be the second time the IYFE takes place. The first award took place in London in February 2008, where finalists from ten countries including Sri Lanka competed for the international award.

Explaining the award, the Acting Director of the British Council, Duncan Wilson says, "It looks not just at a designer, but those who can develop the creative industry in their country." However, it is not necessary for a candidate to have started his or her own business to qualify, he adds. The award does not seek to identify persons who have created the most profitable business, but is aimed at those who have a wider understanding of the potential of the creative economy in their country, what role they could play to build this market and how they can empower others to exploit this economic potential.

Participants may be drawn from various areas of the fashion sector – fashion textile, accessories, production and design, fashion promotion, marketing, publishing etc, Mr. Wilson explains. Candidates are then judged on evidence of their existing entrepreneurial skills and their potential to be an agent of change. Leadership skills and a good knowledge of English is vital.

The closing date for applications is September 15, 2008 and the national winner will be announced in November. He or she would then compete alongside winners from 10 other countries for the IYFE award in UK in February next year.

And once in London…as last year's national winner, Dharshi Keerthisena of Buddhi Batiks puts it, "You are in for a big treat!" From attending the London Fashion Week (front row seats, if your lucky as Dharshi was), to meeting leaders and well-known personalities in the industry, such as Sir Paul Smith, one of the most successful designers in the UK and participating at a showcase opportunity to promote innovative work from your country…London has plenty to offer.

"This is an incredible and amazing experience. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity where you get to experience the best of the fashion industry," Dharshi says, adding that she is willing to help new applicants with the application process.

It also helps you gain recognition and prestige of your brand and for you – personally – back at home. "Winning this award has opened many doors for me. I received a lot of media publicity and made new contacts. People started looking at the batik industry. I was always dreaming of combining the garment and craft industry, and winning this award gave me the chance to word towards this,"

Dharshi says, adding that she was able to explore new business opportunities with other winners. "The finalist from Dubai wants to develop a range of batik shawls with me for a clothing line."

As the British Council team says, this award is all about opportunities. It wouldn't be an easy process, but would certainly be worth it. And if you do walk away as the International Young Fashion Entrepreneur for 2009, there's a whole lot more in store for you.

(For more information on the award and applications contact the British Council on 4521542 or 4521538)

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