“I used to always have a passion for things made in Sri Lanka, and always wanted to promote it. Lately, I saw that there are a lot of talented people, but they don’t really have a place to sell their items or to make them visible. They did not have a platform so I created [...]


Giving an e-platform to artisans from around the country


“I used to always have a passion for things made in Sri Lanka, and always wanted to promote it. Lately, I saw that there are a lot of talented people, but they don’t really have a place to sell their items or to make them visible. They did not have a platform so I created a platform to give small businesses an opportunity to reach a wider audience, both in Sri Lanka and outside.”

Although it may seem daunting to begin something amidst a pandemic, Otara Gunewardene launched her latest venture, ‘Who We Are’ last December. With many transitioning to ordering online, she saw this as the perfect time to create the e-commerce website that promotes local artisans and their products.

 ‘Who We are’ was created to highlight the importance of growing and promoting products that are made in Sri Lanka and to strengthen their availability so that in turn they could become a valuable sector to help the economy.

Well over 350 creators, most of whom are small businesses and individuals who are making things at home have been listed on the website and have their marketing and distribution done for them through this platform. Through careful curation and selection with a few minor
edits here and there, they are able to sell their products on
the website.

 “A majority of our creators are women, at least about 70%. They were not particularly chosen that way but it just happened that way which is wonderful. More women are definitely keen on starting their small business and trying to grow it in order to support their families or help with their children’s education,” Otara notes, pointing out that many had lost their jobs over the last year or found during the lockdown that their actual passions lie elsewhere and wanted to make a change from their regular jobs.

It is a vibrant and diverse range of creators from all over the island from the East, South and even the North, from people who are selling items on the street, to some who have little cottage industries and others who do it in a little area in their home. ‘Who We Are’ connects creators from different ethnicities, ages and social backgrounds.

 “With what’s happening with pollution, environmental damage and things that are really affecting our country and ecosystem, we all need to really contribute to making a difference,” Otara says remarking that with expanding pockets of people who are more keen on following an eco-conscious lifestyle, the change though small, is happening.

Thus far, the feedback for ‘Who We Are’ has been amazing.  Despite a few minor setbacks, customers have been pleased to support local artisans with orders even attracting the attention of a few international clients for the website’s sustainable  and eco-friendly range.

Dinu, a creative jewellery maker whose dainty earrings and necklaces are painstakingly handcrafted in local red clay was one of the first on board the ‘Who We Are’ platform.

 “I have been doing all of this by myself since 2015 – mainly accessories for women. I connected with ‘Who We Are’ and Ms. Otara who all helped me a lot,” she says, eager to continue working with them. Dinu creates her terracotta jewellery by delicately moulding various shapes such as spheres, leaves and squares and either engraving or painting them.

Established right after the 2004 tsunami, the Dickwella Lace Centre was a community development project set up to aid women who had lost their husbands to the natural disaster, says Nimalka Morahela who along with Sheami Dewendre overlooks and helps promote
this initiative.

 “At the moment, we have four women who are all talented in the art of beeralu lace making which is a traditional craft that is slowly dying out. We have some traditional beeralu items, some new current ones – even coloured beeralu and other
items that were quite popular with tourists.”

It was when sales took a huge tumble in the aftermath of the Easter bombings and the COVID-19 pandemic that Nimalka and Sheami reached out to ‘Who
We Are’. It was a smart move,
as orders began flowing in
once again.

Similarly the Sheltered Workshop of the Chitra Lane School for the Special Child established in 2001 with the purpose of providing young adults with special needs the necessary life skills and vocational training in order for them to lead productive and independent lives, found new customers through ‘Who We Are’.  The School provides income-generating opportunities for intellectually impaired young adults and their mothers, explains Clinical Psychologist Nishalie Fernandopulle.

The handmade products created under the Chitra Lane Sheltered Workshop range from recycled paper items, screen-printed bags to up-cycled embroidered fabric pouches.

COVID-19 has made things quite ‘a rollercoaster’, Otara comments. Delivery sometimes gets affected by travel restrictions and some products go out of stock because materials have run out and supplies are slow.

The collections they put out for seasonal festivities and special holidays such as Vesak have also been incredibly popular, Otara says, noting how the DIY lantern kit was enjoyed by many at home due to the travel restrictions preventing from going out and buying them.

 “Because you can’t travel, you can’t really go and buy things from outside and obviously they’re not selling things like they used to outside,” she says adding that apart from the occasional pop-up store she is satisfied with keeping ‘Who We Are’ on an online platform as it reaches more people and is more convenient for customers as well.

Check out the website on https://whoweare.lk/


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