5,291 metres above sea level lies Kala Patthar (black rock in Nepalese) just above Everest Base Camp. This is where a Guinness world record was broken for the highest altitude fashion show ever held. On January 26, our very own Ornella Gunasekera, the reigning Miss Sri Lanka for Miss Universe was one of the 16 [...]


Fashion on an all-time high

Sri Lankan beauty queen Ornella Gunasekera who was part of a Guinness world record -breaking fashion show on Mount Everest talks of her exhilarating experience

High altitude catwalk: Ornella modelling a KASA Yak wool creation

5,291 metres above sea level lies Kala Patthar (black rock in Nepalese) just above Everest Base Camp. This is where a Guinness world record was broken for the highest altitude fashion show ever held. On January 26, our very own Ornella Gunasekera, the reigning Miss Sri Lanka for Miss Universe was one of the 16 models who took part in the Mount Everest Fashion Runway.

Ornella was invited to be a part of this momentous experience by Miss Nepal for Universe 2018 Manita Devkota who was one of the Top 10 contestants at the Miss Universe pageant that year.

“Sixteen models walked the Everest ramp; seven from Nepal, one from Finland, one from the Netherlands, one from Bosnia, five from Italy and I, representing Sri Lanka,” Ornella told the Sunday Times.

The event was organised by the owner of KASA — a Nepalese brand that produces garments out of biodegradable fabrics, Ramila Nemkul and her husband Dr. Pankaj Gupta from India and Riken Maharajan of R.B. Diamond who designed the crowns the models wore.

The Mt. Everest fashion runway was organised to promote sustainability in the fashion industry as well as create awareness on climate change. The carbon output emitted during the trek up Mt. Everest  by everyone involved was monitored by a team of scientists who measured everything that they did.

“We not only saved 8000 litres of water by having no one of the 44 of us use any running water for 16 days but we also drank boiled snow and maintained our hygiene by using special water-less products used by Marines,” Ornella shared.

They ate locally produced food and any waste collected was going to be offset by planting trees to combat the carbon emission. The models were given biodegradable trash bags to collect any trash they found along the way.

“There was actually so much trash, it was truly heart breaking to see… Please do not litter. If you eat something, even a toffee, put the wrapper in your pocket and throw it in the trash later. Do not drop it on the earth,” Ornella appeals.

For the fashion show itself, the models wore garments of KASA which were made out of Yak wool that is fully biodegradable demonstrating how fashion can be eco-friendly and responsible.

Rare award:Ornella being crowned ‘Toughest Model on Earth’

The catwalk was itself  a challenge. “There were some of us who suffered symptoms of high altitude sickness and the doctors present had to administer oxygen in-between walking down the ramp,” Ornella says as she recalls the most ambitious runway she has ever walked on.

The team had to trek for 14 days, the entire journey lasting 16 days from Kathmandu to Kala Patthar (flying from Kathmandu to Lukla) . Surprisingly Ornella tells us that walking, climbing and manoeuvring through snow, sand, ice, rocks and the wild terrain was the easier part.

It was “getting pelted with tiny balls of ice during a hailstorm, walking across a swinging bridge through a full-blown snow storm, taking baby steps to get off the steepest terrain trying not to fall over black ice and managing high altitude sickness,” that she found the most challenging.

From surviving through -28°C temperatures, almost freezing whilst they slept, surviving on locally grown vegetables, white rice and on rare occasions yak meat, chicken or buffalo meat that was heated by cattle dung, Ornella tells us that the entire experience showed her that “life is funny, ever-unpredictable and meaningless without wonderful people”.

Ornella was crowned ‘The Toughest Model on Earth’, after their descent from Kala Patthar. Known for being quite open about her recovery from spinal surgery as a teen, she had amped up her fitness training over two months to prepare for the ascent.

“You have to believe that fear is adrenaline and you can use it to power you instead of holding you back,” Ornella says as she tells us about how Tanuja and Hasitha Raymond from Kinetic Fitness helped her build stamina and

It was also her willpower that she had to build as the fear of hurting her spine again lingered in the back of her mind. Yet although it was a challenging experience it was rewarding too as it proved to her “that no matter what circumstances you live with, you can find a way to overcome a barrier.”

“Honestly, I could not have done this at all without the support of my fellow-models. I have to thank them for this because it is their support that made the journey so enjoyable and not feel tough,” she shares with us about how they always gave her a hand to hold, sharing snacks, hot ginger tea and ‘best of all; the wonderful memories and stories’.

Ornella also spent her 28th birthday up on the mountain as it fell three days before the show. “Ramila, Dr. Pankaj, Riken, the MTV crew who handled the documentary and my amazing fellow models had planned a birthday that will remain a memory of a lifetime,” she says, relating how they had surprised her with a cake and small celebration.

Asked about her most significant moment during her journey she recounts, “I remember it was probably the day before the show, we were trekking up and I remember seeing the most breathtaking view of my life. We all stood in awe. It was around golden-hour and the sun was gleaming through greyish streaked clouds and we realized we were standing above it all. We were actually above the clouds, looking down at the mountains and terrain.”

Her experiences on Mount Everest have made Ornella passionate about rethinking the way we live.

“If this year has showed us anything, it is that we have to, we must, use our competence as the higher species and change the way we produce and consume everything in our capitalist cultures,” she says.

She challenges the people of Sri Lanka to innovate, re-create and re-design their industries and overall to be responsible, sustainable to Mother Earth from this very moment– “if it doesn’t happen today there won’t be a tomorrow.”

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