Sri Lanka’s fashion retail groundbreaker reveals the story behind its cool new identity

#ANewSriLankanStyle #DesignDifference 

When first entered Sri Lanka’s style scene, things were just starting to change. There were consumers with growing spending power looking for homegrown designer brands to wear proudly, and the retail experiences were just starting to get interesting. So, when entered as an exclusively online retailer with free delivery and returns, a never-seen-before mix of trans seasonal styles and a clever east-meets-west curation that played into the tastes of a wide spectrum of women, it was an instant hit. Four years after this beginning, the brand has evolved into its next stage with a sleek new identity—FMLK. Launched with its first phygital store, and brick-and-mortar retail operation this April becoming a powerful engagement point to offer an omni channel retail experience to its customers in line with what’s happening internationally, FMLK’s new transformation seems to be evident in much more than its look and feel. Joining us for an exclusive interview, FMLK CEO Harshi Alexander shared the story behind the beloved brand, and what its new identity means in the brand’s evolution.

So, how did become FMLK? What’s the story?
Simply put, it’s a matter of evolution. Just like our consumers, we’ve grown up a bit, changed the flavour a bit and come to this new place. See, FMLK is about the woman who wears it. And as she changes, evolves and transforms, we do too. When we started off five years ago, our consumer was at a different place. At the time, she was looking for her own style identity connecting to her roots; she wanted a style statement that speaks for her values and beliefs; she was looking for affordable designer wear that did all this, and that’s the gap we filled. And through the years we moved and inspired our loyal fandom to evolve this way with stories and campaigns like ‘She inspires’ and ‘Wear your superpower’. So, by the end of 2018, we noticed how we have reached a new state along with the women who flock around our brand—together, we were all more confident, sure of our style statements, and what we want to project out into the world. FMLK came from this new place we arrived at.

You also moved from being exclusively online to having your first retail store. Why is that?
See, we don’t see ourselves as a physical store and or an online platform. Our vision is not limited to that because we are not just a clothing brand or a shop. We are a movement that connects to design and empowering women in a big and all-encompassing way. When we first started out, the online space really delivered that and helped us achieve that. We wanted to really nail it with that first, and that’s the reason we did not want to open a physical store up until this point. We wanted to be bigger, we ship to twenty one countries worldwide and also have a big following in India. It's been four years since we started out, and we felt it's time to give our customers a new touch point to come see us in the physical realm too; so, now you can visit our store in Green Path; a really interesting space in a beautiful heritage building which we have transformed with an unmissably cool charcoal grey exterior, to mirror a fresh urban take of our ‘New Sri Lankan Style’ aesthetic. We have our online customers now popping by to our phygital store too. It’s a phygital store with bagless shopping options where the weightless convenience of shopping online is retained where your purchases will be delivered to your doorstep allowing you to continue with your day after you shop with us, without the burden of bags. It’s the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka. Totally worth experiencing.

From the very beginning, the designer portfolio of FMLK impressed everyone. How has this grown this year?
One of our biggest strengths has been our partner network including AOD, Island Craft. With AOD, we always have access to the coolest young designers freshly graduating from their fashion design and marketing degrees. So, this is why we have real groundbreakers in terms of incorporating sustainability, crafts and innovation into fashion, like House of Lonali, Senani and Urban Island. We have access to what is, literally, the hottest talent pool in the country along with the best hand skills in local textile crafts. The new generation of designers we work with have actually fuelled a new designer movement and we’re thrilled to be at the very heart of it, creating the future face of a new Sri Lankan style. Similarly, our artisans are at the heart of our movement to empower women, and these two groups tie into our brand philosophy in a big way. It’s years of work that came in to being with the retail that took it to an end consumer.

Where did your trademark ‘new Sri Lankan style’ come from?
FMLK was born out of a true calling to take forward the island style that Sri Lanka is home to. We felt that Sri Lanka and its contemporary island culture was beginning to inspire an unusual aesthetic that was very pared back, cool, contemporary and internationally relevant. Enriching this story was the island’s colourful heritage in artisanry, hand making techniques and craft philosophies that were in perfect harmony with nature. With a new generation of designers, we really had everything we needed to take this ‘new Sri Lankan style’ out to the world. 
Stylistically, it’s a look that decodes a modern paradisiacal style, that connects back to roots in textile crafts, while also resonating with global trends. It’s what you can wear while walking down the cobblestone roads in Galle Fort, down the streets of London or in New York. This is what we coined as ‘a new Sri Lankan style’. People around the world immediately resonated with this aesthetic and its authenticity. The fact that FMLK looks took to international runways like Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week goes on to say how we have become representative of a truly unique style identity out of South Asia.

FMLK has also been really big on incorporating local crafts. Why is that important?
It’s really about how fashion is bigger than just clothes. It’s about how clothing can connect us to history, people, cultures and stories. We love that and we know that it is what makes our fashion different. That’s why batiks, handlooms and all these local crafts take such prominence at FMLK. We made heritage crafts look cool again. As much as we focus on the person who wears the clothing, the people who make the clothing are also a big part of our story. With every piece we design and make right here in Sri Lanka, these artisans find a voice for their family heritage, craft and skill. It’s such a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

What makes FMLK stand out?
FMLK is that rare retailer that stands for its own kind of aesthetic, with its own voice out there. We pioneered the idea of a uniquely and truly new Sri Lankan style, which didn’t just touch the surface, but went deep into our own talent, heritage, artisan communities as well as our own modern urban culture taking root in the island right now. It’s one major reason why we stand out. 
The next is our voice. We stand for giving people, especially women, strength and confidence through the kind of clothing that helps them navigate through their life exceptionally well, whether at work, home or in social circles, and through giving them meaningful work. We stand by this vision wholeheartedly as something that is immensely important for the modern woman and her identity. And we make it about strengthening women in every sense going from the city CEO who finds power in FMLK clothing as she walks into the board room, to the young students who find a new voice with what they wear to the village artisan who finds meaning and livelihood with the work we give them...we do what we believe in through and through; people recognise this about FMLK, and that’s what makes us stand out.