A magical rendition of fabrics | Sunday Observer

A magical rendition of fabrics

8 January, 2023

This week we reached out to Gayanth Karunarathne, a brilliant, ‘sui generis’ designer of our time, the founder of ‘GAI’ by Gayanth Karunarathne.

‘GAI’ was born right after the Covid pandemic and has stirred the waves with its catholic take on jewellery and clothing in Sri Lankan fashion since.

Karunaratne is a self-thought, self-made designer who has been in retail and designing for over 5 years. He used his incredible eye for detail and whimsy and his experience in the market, that he gathered from his time in retail and applied it to his brand. Besides running his brand Karunaratne is also working as a freelancer at the design collective.

Karunaratne’s story as a designer begins with him starting his law degree. “My parents were not particularly fond of my fashion. They wanted me to study law, so I gave it a shot, started my degree and tried it for a while but then a few years in I came to terms with my passion in fashion and secretly started taking a pattern class and teaching myself the ways of fabric and fashion. And then I got into fashion retail. This was a very good opportunity for me to learn the way of fashion. I tried to design myself as well. I entered competitions, did TV shows, kept myself busy until I got the courage to start ‘GAI’. ”

When asked about the story behind the name ‘GAI’, Karunaratne told us that ‘GAI’ is the nickname his friends refer to him and he thought this was the perfect name to have him resonate with his creation.”

“When I started my career in fashion I wouldn’t say I had a particular inspiration. I was flipping through fashion magazines and got mesmerised by the colour palates and fabrics and decided this is where I wanted to be. Besides I have always had a creative spirit, my friends have always pushed me to keep pursuing what I wanted to do and create something that will outlive me, I believe that is what kept me going,” he said.

Karunaratne’s grandfather was an architect and his uncle an interior designer, so we could say his creative spirit is in his blood.

‘GAI’ offers a range of beautiful, versatile unisex clothing aiming to be at the convenience of its clients. “When I started I focused on women’s wear. But then I thought what the market would require, I am always programmed to think this way due to my experience in retail. I also got a collection of suggestions to work on menswear and plus sizes as some believed that I had a whimsical take on menswear. So I decided why not make things easier and do something that is unisex.”

Karunaratne said that he is not into genderless fashion, he just wants to make things easy for the customer. “I do not try to fit into a frame. I try to come up with my own version of parameters when it comes to my designs. I simply go through the fabric and let it speak to me.”

According to Karunaratne, he realised that at its inception foreigners were responding to his designers better, especially as men’s fashion is not as progressed in Sri Lanka as it is abroad. “However I have also been retailing my products with the Design Collective and with time I have come to notice that both locals and foreigners seem to be interested in my collections.”

Asked if he was happy with where he is as a designer, he said, “There are moments I am overjoyed and moments when I am low. However the general consensus is that I am extremely grateful for where I am. I am self-taught so there are pros and cons to my situation, it is difficult for me to be hired as a fashion designer by anyone because I may not have the professional knowledge others do, this is why I started my own brand.”

Finally on behalf of all of you I asked Karunaratne what he believed was the best fashion statement to which he said, “Individuality. It is what makes you yourself. I have always being interested in fashion, even if I may not have been the most fashionable in my teens. I believe the pot stirrer is to try something everyone else is not going to try and to be able to own it with confidence.

The new year looks promising to GAI and Karunaratne. He is working on a new earring collection, planning to increase his scope of retailers, release two new collections and increase South Asian clientele. “I am planning a few pop ups in India soon, I hope it goes well.