Our associate enterprise, Vision1 was recently approached by Selyn, a major player in the handloom and ethical fashion industry in Sri Lanka, with a view to increase awareness about the brand in celebration of its 26th anniversary and draw attention to its cause which is the empowerment of disadvantaged women in rural communities. The passionate Vision1 Team executed a re-branding of Selyn and launch of its sub-brand ‘STHRI’, through an exciting, women powered and socially driven campaign.
Selyn is one of Sri Lanka’s only Fair Trade organisations that’s been in existence for 26 years. Over the last quarter century, Selyn has grown to be one of Sri Lanka’s largest social enterprises, nurturing over 1000 artisans. Based in Wanduragala, Kurunegala it was founded and is run by Sandra Wanduragala. Selyn was born out of adversity as Sandra overcame her own challenges to take independent control of her life by banding together with her brother and creating handloom products and sourcing cottage industry handloom items to sell.
Elaborating on the campaign and the amazing experience that the Vision1 team shared with Selyn on their journey together, the agency’s GM Shanuki says ‘Through the business that she established, Sandra saw the enormous potential she had to help other women in Kurunegala and rural villages who didn’t have a voice of their own and who remained stuck in difficult circumstances. She saw an opportunity to give them the same kind of new lease on life she had created for herself.’
‘This motivation to empower women like her, created what has become Selyn’s business model, which is to financially invest in these women to enable them to start their own handloom, sewing, weaving and crafting businesses by accommodating them at Selyn’s weaving mills or providing them with equipment to work from home, if they’re unable to leave their homes. Selyn’s chain of stores around the island then sell these products and the proceeds go back to the communities who created the product.
Over 26 years Sandra has built a huge export market and Selyn is the largest Fair Trade exporter in Sri Lanka. Every area of the business is sustainable and looks into the comfort of those under the Selyn umbrella. This business model is doing incredible things for communities and Sandra has even teamed up with Grameen to provide financial assistance to women. Creche facilities, meals and child care services are all provided to the women by Selyn, free of charge. It’s a totally sustainable model where there’s zero waste as all by products of the handloom products are used to make other craft items. Even wastewater from the dye factories is recycled and no chemicals go into the environment. The treated wastewater is used to water the vegetable gardens at the factory, which produce organic vegetables that are distributed free to workers.
‘What’s amazing about Selyn is that it’s led by just this one woman who did not begin with privilege. Sandra even founded a school in Kurunegala and has educated so many workers and their families. Still, she has never invested in any form of marketing or PR because her heart is in the right place.It’s not an image for her, it’s who she is and although people know about Selyn shops, few people knew about the wonders the business was achieving through empowering women. She is providing women with a real solution so they can stay close to home and take care of their children instead of seeking foreign employment and leaving their children vulnerable to abuse in the absence of their mother. It’s a viable, feasible business model that supports mothers.
‘While Sandra remains at the helm of the business, her daughter, Selyna has now taken over day to day operations. She’s well educated and has spent many years in Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service. Like Sandra, Selyna’s heart is also in the right place and she’s committed to the cause, but she sees the vast potential that the business has and understands that to reach its full potential, awareness about the cause and the work that Selyn is doing is essential. She sees a need to educate people about Selyn’s business model and the support network it has created.
‘That’s why Selyna came up with the idea to celebrate the 26th anniversary of Selyn with the launch of a new label and line that reflects what the business is about. She wanted it to be a collaborative effort, crowd sourced and made by women, for women and from which women benefit. Deciding to call the label ‘STHRI’ (Referencing the Female Gender in the Sinhala language), Selyn decided to place their faith and trust in us at Vision1 and gave us the challenge of launching it.
‘Vision1 champions cause marketing in Sri Lanka and we are passionate about it. We want to take brands that align themselves with some sort of social benefit and use the craft of advertising to change the world for the better and we found Selyn to be right up our alley.
‘With the launch of STHRI, we also suggested a re-branding and
relaunch of Selyn itself. We developed a new identity for Selyn with a new, powerful logo and unveiled this at Selyn’s 26th anniversary, which was commemorated with a fashion show. The show was a collaboration between various independent designers, starting off with Sri Lankan German, Arosha Rosenberger, the lady behind the Munich-based eco fashion label – Tuschimo. Selyn shop interiors and visual merchandising were also revamped as part of the rebranding.
‘We decided that we would refrain from using ‘models’ for the show and instead have noteworthy activists, feminists and other impactful women walk the ramp. For the visual material that we used at the show and for the rebranding of Selyn we decided not to go with traditional ‘shoots’ and instead have these trailblazing women as well as the Selyn employees from Kurunegala wear the clothes for our campaign visuals, bringing the message out in a big way.
‘The 26th Anniversary Fashion Show and the launch of STHRI was very successful and showcased a supportive network of women, a sisterhood; bonding, helping & supporting. All the participants at the fashion show were volunteers and all the women were prominent, respected personalities in their respective fields. We, and when I say ‘we’ I mean Selyn and Vision1, are touched and grateful for their support. Even when it came to music and entertainment at the show, we did away with stereotypical catwalk music. Instead we had live music and performances of poetry by artistes who use their skill for activism that supports the feminist cause. Even the media sponsored or voluntarily supported the cause.
‘I think our strategy worked brilliantly. We had 20 women with huge social followings on the ramp and gained massive PR traction as a result that really got the message out. Each of these women has achieved excellence in their fields with most working toward solving Gender Equality issues. With the amount of talent, qualifications and competency we had on stage at the show, it was like we were a powerhouse that could rule the world! Best part was that they were all so happy to be a part of the show and were continuously updating their social media streams, so they themselves were endorsing the brand for us. So basically, everyone got to know about it as our models became our spokespeople, voluntarily.
‘The super successful launch was held on Saturday 11th November 2017 at Park Street Mews and by the following Tuesday they were out of their first stock of garments and had to place orders for a new batch. So evidently, we succeeded.
‘Our team did everything in-house, going beyond the traditional scope of what an advertising agency does. I compered the show, some of us modeled, the visual merchandising was physically handled by our own team, and all the video work was handled by us too. We have become part of Selyn and Selyn has become part of us and that’s so awesome.
‘It’s been a real first for us. Our first major event and the first brand we re-launched. It’s been win-win and it’s meant a lot to the team.
We’ve been super passionate about the work and the cause and we are honoured and happy to have been involved in something meaningful and we hope for more such projects in the future.
Thank you Selyn and Selyna for letting us work our magic, without limitations!