Case Study 3.6
A mesmerising catwalk showcasing repurposed fabric waste.  ©

Photo credit: Biodiversity Sri Lanka 

For Samali Seneviratne, opportunities that the Youth Leadership for Climate Action (YLCA) Project brought were a vital professional and personal impetus in her sustainable fashion journey. 

Samali, a graduate in fashion design from University of Moratuwa, specialised in textile design and was always interested in the nexus between fashion, people and the environment. Hailing from a town called Pallewala in Mirigama, Samali grew up in the backdrop of small-scale apparel industries and the handloom industry. Her project ‘Theeru’, which means small strips, was a finalist in British Council’s YLCA Challenge Grant, and sought to minimise fabric waste from small-scale garment owners being burnt or sent to landfills, with a focus on Sri Lanka’s vibrant handloom industry.


The YLCA project, a collaboration between the British Council and Biodiversity Sri Lanka, sought proposals from young Sri Lankan climate activists and conducted a comprehensive training program on building capacity and developing new skills. Next, participants were encouraged to partake in community interventions addressing climate and environmental concerns. In the next phase, participants were then encouraged to pitch for grants and build further on their project interventions.

The Theeru project sought to create new products while mitigating environmental damages, raising awareness about proper disposal methods and also generating employment opportunities through traditional fabric-making techniques.

Preserving traditional crafts

Handloom is a significant fabric-making technique in Sri Lanka, firmly embedded in its cultural heritage, and is characterised by manual labour and the use of a large loom. Handloom encompasses myriad categories such as table loom, power loom, Dumbara and jacquard – each technique marked with unique features. While handloom allows for intricate design weaving, it is also time consuming and costly.

Beeralu craft is a technique of lace making in Sri Lanka believed to have Malay, Portuguese and Dutch influences. The craft thrives in the south of Sri Lanka, has distinct finishing methods and demands a significant amount of time and labour.

The Theeru project contained many layers. The project incorporated waste fabric strips sourced from small-scale garment owners into the traditional weaving process, resulting in the effective use of waste fabrics and ability to minimise environmental harm. Samali expanded her product line of accessories into clothing and also launched a sustainable fashion brand online. Through online and in-person workshops, Samali educated people about sustainability in fashion.

A key achievement was the economic opportunities the project opened up for women. 

“Before coming into fashion and before my degree, I grew up with the traditions of handloom. It was only when I went to university that I realized handloom was a sustainable practice,” said Samali, who is also passionate about environmental conservation,“I realised that in the village I am from, village women wanted to earn something while staying at home. With the knowledge I have now, I can help them,” said Samali.

The project played a vital role in preserving traditional cultural crafts and techniques in Sri Lanka. Another outcome of the project was the confidence to pitch in competitions.

British Council value addition

While Samali had participated in fashion shows, pitching competitions were out of her comfort zone. Equipped with the new skills learned from British Council’s YLCA workshops, the confidence in new products developed and with assistance from her mentor, Hasanka Padukka, Samali soon began pitching her product line and sustainable weaving technique in numerous competitions. This, subsequently, led to life-changing opportunities, great personal growth, recognition as a sustainable fashion designer, networked contacts in the fashion industry, the chance to launch a men’s clothing line, and an opportunity to explore the possibilities of incorporating natural dye into the products and avenues for investment.

“After going to these pitching competitions, I developed knowledge on how to present. Previously, I had knowledge about clothing but not about running a business,” said Samali.

While the Theeru project has ended, it is clear that Samali’s sustainable fashion journey has only just begun.

Case Study 3.2
Samali presenting her project to an audience at a networking event organised by British Council for youth participants of the YLCA project. 
Case Study 3.1