Amelia’s Magazine | Charini Eco Lingerie Fashion: New S/S 2012 Season Preview Interview

Charini lingerie S/S 2012 illustration by Mitika Chohan
Charini S/S 2012 by Mitika Chohan

The luxurious, handcrafted eco-lingerie brand Charini was launched during Colombo Fashion Week in 2009 – since then designer Charini Suriyage has caught the attention of the fashion industry and gone on to win the first ever Ethical Fashion Award for Lingerie at the Sri Lanka Design Festival in 2010. She is also the first Sri Lankan to take part in London Fashion Week, showing her S/S 2012 collection at Estethica last September – shown here. I caught up with her to talk about the ethos behind the brand, lost crafts, inspirations and her upcoming A/W 2012 collection.

Charini S/S 2012 photo by Karoliina Barlund

Why lingerie?
I started my career as a lingerie designer and then worked for more than eight years for MAS Holdings, one of the largest lingerie manufacturers for brands like Victoria’s Secret, Marks & Spencer etc… Here I got the opportunity to specialise on lingerie and realise that it’s an interesting field of fashion. This made me want to launch my own lingerie brand.

Charini lingerie S/S 2012 illustration by Mitika Chohan

Charini S/S 2012 by Mitika Chohan

Charini S/S 2012 photo by Karoliina Barlund

A lot of your pieces are beautifully structured, with very interesting lines forming shapes and negative spaces in sometimes unexpected places. Could you tell me a bit more about your interest in architecture and your design processes?
I would say that it’s the influence of my Bachelors degree in design which was under the faculty of architecture where I studied my first year together with the architecture students in fact! Clothing creates forms by creating space between the body and the environment just as buildings create spaces. And it’s always exiting to have pleasant little surprises at unexpected moments and places. I want to create that excitement with my designs. I draw inspirations from tradition and fuse it with modern trends and concepts. Personally I believe that we should limit consumption rather than over use and then find ways to reduce the impact of what we have created. Therefore I try to use minimum number of components for the designs. Consumers rarely know that a bra uses up to 30 components! This thought lead me to invent creative methods of using a limited number of componets exploring traditional methods of making lingerie and combine it with modern techniques that consume less energy.

Charini lingerie S-S 2012 illustration by Laura Griffin

Charini S/S 2012 by Laura Griffin

Charini S/S 2012 photo by Karoliina Barlund

Why do you think it is important that contemporary design supports and revives lost heritage crafts and could you tell us a bit more about the ones Charini uses?
There are so many artisan communities that struggle to sustain their livelihoods as the contemporary designers have shifted to using cheaper mass produced options which has also resulted in these crafts being forgotten. We don’t use metal in our products, and upcycle fabrics and trims at all possible times. We also work with the craft communities in Sri Lanka who supply us hand woven pure silks and handmade traditional lace, crochet and hand made coconut shell buttons.
All these have made our product to have a low carbon footprint and higher ethical standards. Using heritage crafts can be the best option for producing products with a minimum impact on the environment as such crafts and methods are naturally environmentally friendly.

Charini S/S 2012 illustration by Laura Griffin

Charini S/S 2012 by Laura Griffin

Charini as a brand places a huge importance on the well-being of both the people involved to make the pieces as well as of those that wear them. What has inspired you over the years as a designer and a human being to have this approach and could you mention a couple of examples of how you promote this well-being?
As I mentioned earlier I have been working at the manufacturing end of the apparel industry where I got the first hand experience of waste that was involved in the entire garment manufacturing process. I saw how much of fabric was needed to be ordered to secure an order although never used completely and how much of fabrics was wasted because of cancelations or very minor spec mismatches. I used to always think how much we could do with these fabrics which are of very high quality. I have been concerned about the environment since I was a child and was brought up in a place and a family background where I had the privilege of appreciating nature. I saw my mother work closely with artisan communities as she is involved in charity and social work and also got my initial knowledge of crafts from her. All these experiences moulded my thinking which made me select the ethical approach that I have chosen. The well-being of the people is as important as the well-being of the environment. Hence we have taken a stance to be metal free as metal production is one of the most toxic releasing industries. Also, as much as we want to support the wider community with their livelihoods we also want to make sure that the consumer’s well-being is also taken care of. Lingerie is the first thing that we put next to our skins. Therefore it’s very important that these garments are made out of materials that are non toxic to the body.

Charini S/S 2012 photo by Will Whipple

You mention that in your latest A/W 2012 collection you have used ‘recycled plastic’. As a designer that makes jewellery from recycled plastic I would be really interested to hear where does this plastic come from?
It was not the easiest thing to find. We were not using any plastics at all… But we realised that the consumer is very dependent on some conventional components that come in lingerie. This made us search for alternative options, and actually had to convince a manufacturer who produces other recycled plastic products to consider the option of producing what we needed.

Charini S/S 2012 illustration by Ellen Li

Charini S/S 2012 by Ellen Li

You completed an MA in Design Management at the London College of Fashion. How important and helpful has this been in giving birth to and running Charini?
As I did my bachelors in design I thought it would be helpful to continue my masters in design management so that I could balance my creativity and entrepreneurial skills. Having an academic knowledge on management is very helpful specially when managing your own brand as you have to wear different “hats” and shift between creative and business decisions about the company.

Charini S/S 2012 photo by Karoliina Barlund

You have previously mentioned that one of your greatest inspirations is the designer Issey Miyake. Could you tell us a bit more in what way?
Issey Miyake is a designer who pushed the boundaries of fashion. We all can easily understand conventional fashion is… and make pretty clothes… But only a few have the thinking and also the ability to merge boundaries between fashion and other disciplines and concepts. That is what I would like to see myself do one day…

Charini S/S 2012 photo by Karoliina Barlund

Your upcoming A/W 2012 collection consists of two seemingly contradictory ranges: the ‘Merry Me Range’ and the ‘Range X’. Are duality, contradiction and extremes themes that interest you artistically or conceptually?
Well… you’re absolutely correct. I believe that different situations bring out different extremes of a person which are hidden inside. I also like the challenge of designing extreme concepts at the same time.

Charini S/S 2012 photo by Karoliina Barlund

What can we expect for 2012 after your appearance in London Fashion Week’s Estethica exhibition?
Expanding into swim wear is the next step for the brand.

Charini will be presenting her A/W 2012 Collection at the Estethica Exhibition at Somerset House during London Fashion Week, 17th-21st February 2012.

Photographs by Karolina Barlund and Will Whipple.

Categories ,architecture, ,Artisan, ,Buttons, ,Carbon footprint, ,Charini, ,Charini Suriyage, ,Cocconut buttons, ,collection, ,Colombo Fashion Week, ,community, ,crafts, ,crochet, ,design, ,Design Management, ,Duality, ,eco-lingerie, ,Ecoluxury, ,Ellen Li, ,environment, ,estethica, ,ethical, ,Ethical Fashion, ,Ethical Fashion Award for Lingerie, ,Ethical Fashion Awards, ,Extremes, ,Fashion Design, ,Heritage, ,Heritage Crafts, ,interview, ,Issey Miyake, ,Karolina Barlund, ,lace, ,Laura Griffin, ,lingerie, ,London College of Fashion, ,London Fashion Week, ,Lost crafts, ,Management, ,Manufacturing, ,Maria Papadimitriou, ,Marks and Spencer, ,MAS Holdings, ,Mitika Chohan, ,non toxic, ,Recycled Fabrics, ,recycled plastic, ,Silk, ,Silks, ,Somerset House, ,Sri Lanka, ,Sri Lanka Design Festival, ,Swimmwear, ,Upcycled, ,Victoria’s Secret, ,Will Whipple

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