MAKING HEADLINES IN THE FASHION STAKES WORLD WIDE

Cosmopolitan Power Woman
Chathuri Samaraweera

Self-proclaimed designers are a dime a dozen in Dubai, but Chathuri Samaraweera, the Sri Lankan born Fashion Entrepreneur, stands out even among the icons that have made indelible marks on the industry. The Designer and Creative Director behind the Dubai based luxury ready-to-wear label ANAYA, Chathuri was featured in the Fortune Arabia Magazine in 2012 as one of the top five Emerging Regional Designers and walked away with the Masala.

Magazine Fashion Designer of the Year Award in 2014, competing amongst the top Asian Designers in the whole of the region. She also won the International Young Fashion Entrepreneur Award from the British Fashion Council at the London Fashion Week for her vision for her start up brand ANAYA. Hers is a story of a Sri Lankan who has managed to make a name for herself in the international market. It all begins at home. Chathuri grew up in a family full of creative spirits. She spent most of her time at her farther’s art gallery, which helped her explore her creative abilities at a very young age. “The arts, be it paintings, crafts, sculptures, theater, or music, have been a part of my life since childhood and I was truly blessed to be around parents who exposed me to all its different forms. This exposure, coupled with an innate ability to visualize concepts and transform them into a unique piece of art in the form of a 3D ensemble, provoked me to explore the field of Fashion Design,” she says.

“My father influenced and supported many homegrown artists in Sri Lanka, encouraging them to present their work at various local and international art festivals and galleries. He opened his own art gallery to showcase both the up-and-coming as well as the highly established painters and sculptors in the island. He also designed costumes for theatrical productions in Sri Lanka. He was one of my greatest inspirations.” “My mother, to me, has always been the most stylish lady ever. Her sense of style and taste influenced me immensely to a point where, even at a ripe age of ten, I would cut up her most beautiful sarees to make something fun and fashionable,” reminisces Chathuri. Launching her own fashion or  lifestyle brand was her ultimate goal. However, Chathuri first and foremost took the time to acquire business acumen so that she might someday be able to manage her own brand more effectively. Before starting her journey in fashion, she armed herself with a bachelor’s degree from Monash University in Australia with a double major in Accounting and Finance. Back in Sri Lanka, she also worked in the field of Brand Management and Marketing at leading companies such as Nestle Sri Lanka and Coca Cola. Chathuri’s pursue in design began when she moved to Los Angeles, USA. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from FIDM – the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Los Angeles, whilst working as a Design Intern at ‘Rampage’. She later moved on to the Designer atelier of BCBG Max Azria as an Assistant Designer, where, according to her, she learnt the art of ‘luxury fashion’. 

“My fashion career started as an intern at Rampage Clothing in Los Angeles while I was still a student at FIDM. At the time, the opportunity to gain knowledge in the industry was more valuable to me than merely doing a job that paid me a salary, therefore, I opted for an unpaid internship which paved the way into the world of fashion. I then had the privilege of coming back to Sri Lanka to work at MAS Active (MAS Holdings) as the Head of Design, managing some of the world’s strongest fashion brands such as Nike, Adidas, Victoria’s Secret, GAP, and Reebok. After accumulating this wealth of knowledge and work experience in Los Angeles, New York, as well as Sri Lanka, Chathuri then went on to launch ANAYA in 2011 and started a capsule collection of luxury ready-to-wear outfits out of her apartment in Dubai in 2011. The Launch of ANAYA was very special to the Designer as the brand was inspired by her family. “Anaya is my daughter’s name and she’s my inspiration for the brand” she says proudly. “My dream is to build a fashion empire for the power women of the new era, and I’m thrilled to be doing it honoring her name.” Chathuri is a mum of two – Anaya (14) and Seshan (12). For her, becoming a mother is still her greatest achievement in life.

“Moving to Dubai was a personal decision I made to be with my family and to raise my kids in a safe and table environment. It subsequently morphed into the right place to establish the brand as Dubai was fast becoming an iconic fashion destination, with a diversified portfolio featuring some of the best luxury fashion brands in the world and attracting nearly 20 million tourist a year.” “Launching ANAYA in Dubai however was a challenge at first as it was a completely new market for me. Learning along the way and being able to adapt to the unique taste of my clients in the Gulf region was a strength I soon developed. Together with the support of my family, perseverance, and drive, coupled with my industry experience in the USA, I managed to build the business from scratch to a level where the product has gained international acclaim, retailing in 6 countries around the world.” ANAYA began as a home-grown business which started out of Chathuri’s apartment with a mere investment of USD 2000 and 1 employee. The brand has now morphed into a fully-fledged design and manufacturing company with an in-house atelier, showroom, and production facility in the Dubai Design District, which produces over 1000 unique high-end luxury dresses per year. ANAYA is currently retailing in the world’s leading department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Harvey Nichols and high-end multi brand boutiques in UAE, KSA, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and USA.

Chathuri has not only marked her presence internationally, but amongst great stars as well. The brand has been patronized by many A-list celebrities worldwide, such as Tyra Banks, Kangana Renault, Masoom Minwala, Jenna Ortega, Kiana Lede, Pooja Hedge, Joelle Mardinian, Balqees Fathi, Betty Gabriel, Huma Qureshi, and Magan Roup to name a few. 

The ANAYA fashion-forward pieces have also been showcased on the runways of many International Fashion Weeks including London, Dubai, Paris and New York, and have been featured in leading magazines by the likes of British Vogue, Cosmopolitan,Grazia and Harper’s Bazaar. Season after season, coveted not only by celebrities, but by women of all ages, Chathuri continues to deliver to her customers beautifully crafted pieces which flaunt and flatter the natural curves of their bodies. 

“The ANAYA aesthetic represents effortless beauty with a touch of luxury, accentuating the natural curves of the woman’s body,” explains Chathuri. “The designs have a signature look of molded draping with 3D elements and a clever mix of textures and fabric manipulations which our clients identify as something unique to the brand.” 

This was a key milestone in my life. When I realized that I could create a unique piece of art in the form of an outfit which can transform a women to her fullest, powerful and most beautiful state. With this realization, I was not afraid to launch my brand, knowing that I can use my talent to continuously innovate, create and execute beautiful designs until my last breath.” The ANAYA philosophy is to maintain the uniqueness and authenticity of each design and creation, preserving the handwriting of the brand whilst giving clients the highest level of creativity, quality and luxury. The higher purpose or meaning of the brand is giving one the ‘feeling’ of empowerment whilst accentuating the natural beauty of those who wear it, more than the product itself. For Chathuri, her strength lies in knowing her customers, their bodies and what truly makes them look beautiful, maintaining a signature look which she keeps reinventing season after season, carefully crafted in her own Dubai based studio.

“ANAYA has a unique signature style with a visual appeal that our clients can easily differentiate and recognize. It’s my strength as well as my responsibility as a designer to consistently create designs that embody the ANAYA aesthetic without blindly following the latest trends and influencer wardrobes. ANAYA designs give a sense of multi dimensionality and asymmetrical proportions with carefully curated fabric manipulations and draping, making the designs stand out from the crowd. “ So, where does she see her brand moving to next? “I am currently expanding my brand in USA and India as a strategic move and will subsequently venture into Europe and South America with more diverse and versatile collections to cater to a wider audience,” she said. There is a pivotal point where a designer and her brand evolve into an organization that is much bigger than one person, but still represents the artist’s original vision. Chathuri and her team are doing just that and leaving an impression on the fashion world. “Every day is a challenge in the world of Fashion. The industry is evolving at a very dynamic and rapid pace and if you are not truly talented, innovative, consistent, and agile, you cannot survive.

I always try to stay true to the esthetic and philosophy of the brand by consistently innovating and giving our clients newness.” “The best thing about what I do is being able to wake up every day, excited, motivated with a sense of purpose to create beauty to empower women around the world,” she added. “My advice to anyone trying to build a self-made empire out there would be to remember that no matter how independent and self-made you are, you must ask yourself ‘why?’. The intention and purpose behind all what you do and thrive for, must have meaning and add value to you, your family and to the greater good of society and humankind. Without the right intention and purpose, we are all blinded.” Chathuri’s work, life, philosophy, and everything in between is no doubt a reflection of the power woman of a cosmopolitan city. Fashion can be a very liberating career for a woman says Chathuri and it gives her great satisfaction as well as self expression. “It’s a crazy life but if you can balance everything, it’s rewarding and fulfilling”. When asked who she owes her success to, she said “Firstly, myself, as I truly believe in this innate gift I have to create and the strength and courage I have developed to be resilient in this most challenging and transforming field of fashion. Secondly, my family, who have always walked this journey together with me and who gave me the opportunity to become the best version of myself with their endless support and love. Thirdly, the four countries (Australia, Sri Lanka, USA, and UAE), who gave me invaluable knowledge, exposure, experience and business viability to groom myself to become a successful entrepreneur.

By Louzanne

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