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28th June 1998

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How Common is it?

By Ayesha Reza Rafiq

Nothing about the 'Commons' coffee house is common. From its concept to its atmosphere to its owners, everything about it just spells different. After all, how many places here, do you know of where the owner says, "you can put your legs up on the sofa and nap if you like. We have no problem with it."

A new concept in the genre of 'cafe,' the Commons, which opened a few months ago in Colombo 3 offers 35 types of coffee, all of which are imported from the U.S. The atmosphere is homely and relaxing. The menu is varied and offers snacks and light lunches and dinners, ranging from cheese sticks, to bagels to lasagna.

The owners, Umesha Wickremeratne and Dinesha de Chickera, who run the cafe together with their friend, Manju Serasinghe, are cousins. 'The company' as Dinesha refers to it, "is owned by very few shareholders who are either family or friends who have had enough confidence in the concept to invest".

They plan on keeping things small and personal so that they can interact with the clientele, unlike, as they say, most restaurants where the atmosphere is more fomal. "Almost everyone we spoke to told us to mark our prices up 100-200% but we felt that wasn't fair," says Dinesha, so they kept their profit margin low and the prices reasonable.

The motive rather than large profits seems primarily to be customer satisfaction. Dinesha says their success is based on their originality. "What we offer is something different. We want people to come here because we offer something that can't be found anywhere else." Umesha and Dinesha, while studying in the U.S for their degrees in Human Resource Management and International Business respectively, worked in their college coffee houses and delis in Ithaca.

Both gave up their respective careers in human resource management and marketing because they say they enjoy the challenge and responsibility of their present work and like being their own boss. For two young girls, who knew next to nothing about the trade, they took rather a big risk by plunging right in, but it seems to have been a risk well worth taking. Umesha believes there is a lot of encouragement for young small scale entrepreneurs. "You don't have to have a lot of money or collateral. Just a good project and plenty of drive. Both Dinesha and I have no financial experience. Banks have a number of programmes that are created with people like us in mind." There was no research done It was launched on gut instinct," she explained. They don't advertise as they want the customer base to increase slowly. Their present staff strength is about six.

Why the name 'Commons,' one might well ask. Initially they wanted to name it House of Commons, "just to be different," but they had difficulty registering it with the Registrar of Companies because of the House of Commons in England. Then they decided simply on 'Commons', as downtown Ithaca was called the Commons and was a 'coffee house type of town."

Domestic help being scarce now, people like to relax over a light meal outside their homes. Owing to this, even with rising costs of living, the restaurant business is booming, and this is why, Dinesha says, they were sure that the 'Commons' would be a success. "Especially during the weekend, people come in and pull out a magazine or a game from the shelves, do their homework, or just chat. So what happens if there are a lot of customers? "Well, if the house if full, the house is full," Umesha said.

The ground floor is open to anyone but the upper floor is restricted to members. The pool room has an annual membership. The Laser Disc room is rented out by the hour. People can bring their own LD's and watch them. The Gallery upstairs displays the work of lesser known artists, and when possible sells it for them. This is done free of charge as a type of community service. There are plans to hold an exhibition within the next few weeks. There is also a notice-board downstairs where anyone can put up their notices.

With people bemoaning the lack of new entertainment in Colombo, the 'Commons' seems to be an interesting option.

Lankans win at hairaising event

The Asian Hairstyling and Make-up Competition is one of the biggest events of the hair and beauty industry in Asia. More than 5000 stylists and make up artists from Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, China, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka vie for honours each year. The theme of this year's competition held in Tokyo was 'Black Hair is beautiful'.

The purpose of the competion is to upgrade the standards of the beauty industry and to exchange techniques and ideas and also understand cultures among participating countries.

The competition has been held without a break for 22 years.

Sri Lanka's representative Ramani Fernando was a judge in the competition together with Ramzi Rahaman another leading hairdresser in the country.

Success for Sri Lanka came from Cheryl Gooneratne of Ramani Fernando Salons who was the second runner-up in the Bridal dressing and Make-up section. The model worked on by Cheryl was Audrey Fernando who stood out in clothing designed by Michelle Wijesuriya.

Johann Peiries also from Ramani Fernando Salons won an award for the most outstanding performance in the evening make-up section. Lana who modelled for Johann had her clothes designed by Crysanthi Fernandopulle. AirLanka sponsored the tickets for the Sri Lanka team to Japan for the competition.

Chemical Hair Straighteners

Chemical hair straighteners are the only products that will produce long-lasting straightening of visible hair. The principle used is just the reverse of that of permanent waving, in that the hair is straightened rather than curled after the chemical bonds have been disrupted. However, stronger chemicals are usually required for straightening than for waving.

The alkaline straighteners contain the strongly caustic chemical sodium hydroxide. The sodium hydroxide causes the hair to swell and induces breakage and alteration of the chemical bonds in the hair fibers. This action is very rapid, and the fibers relax quickly under the tension of combing. The hair is then rinsed with water to stop the chemical action. Because of the rapid chemical action of these products, they must be left on the hair for no longer than 5 to 10 minutes; otherwise the hair may be seriously damaged. (It is important to exactly follow the directions on the package.) The scalp and skin may suffer first-to third-degree chemical burns from contact with the sodium hydroxide, so the scalp and surrounding skin should be covered with a protective cream.

If alkali straighteners come in direct contact with the eyes, they can cause blindness. Fortunately, these products are usually provided in very thick cream forms, and accidental contamination of the eyes is rare. For safety reasons, alkali straighteners are best applied by professionals.

Follow-up care is elaborate and includes successive applications of moisturizers, curl activators, and oil sheen that saturate the hair and scalp. A plastic cap is worn to bed each night.

Thioglycolate straighteners are a newer innovation in chemical straighteners. They contain the same active ingredient as cold wave permanents, but in higher concentrations. These products are most often used in beauty salons, although a few products are available for home use.

Thioglycolate lotions or creams are applied to clean, damp hair and take from 10 to 20 minutes to break the chemical bonds in hair so it can be straightened. The hair is combed while the straightener is acting in order to pull the curl out. This must be done cautiously to avoid hair breakage. The hair is then rinsed with water and neutralized with an oxidative solution, which rebuilds new bonds to produce hair that is straight instead of curly.

Thioglycolates are irritating chemicals and may cause contact dermatitis of the scalp and surrounding skin. They produce fewer reactions than alkali straighteners, but unfortunately they are not as effective either. The Thioglycolates do not break and realign all the chemical bonds of the hair, so that hair does not become as straight.

Hair that has been damaged by prior chemical treatments such as bleaching should not be subjected to straightening. Also, some manufacturers advise against using hair colours that require peroxide on chemically straightened hair.

Bisulfite straighteners are the most recent development in chemical hair straightening. They are most popular for home use, but some professional products are also available. The term "curl relaxed" is used to describe bisulfite products because they do not produce the degree of straightening provided by alkali or thioglycolate straighteners. They are better suited for relaxing curly hair in Caucasians than in blacks.

The bisulfite curl relaxers act in the same way as thioglycolate straighteners. The chemical bonds of the hair are broken and then set in the new, straightened position. After the bisulfite lotion is applied to clean damp hair, the hair is covered with a plastic turban for about 15 minutes. Next, the hair is combed for 15 to 20 minutes to produce the degree of curl relaxation desired.

The hair's chemical bonds are then relinked in their new orientation by rinsing the hair with water and then with an alkaline stabilizer (neutralizer) solution. A conditioner is applied to the hair as the final step.

While chemical straighteners straighten the visible hair, it's necessary to straighten the new hair growth every few months.

Care must be taken not to double-process hair that has already been straightened or severe damage and hair breakage may occur. This is difficult to avoid because of the combing technique that is an integral part of straightening.

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