The handicraft of weaving and handlooming is a colourful and important part of Sri Lanka’s tradition and economy. From ancient records of the island nation trading cotton with other countries, to weaving designs that have been passed down through generations, the handicraft of textiles is ingrained in Sri Lanka’s culture. Garments and textiles make up over half of the country’s total annual exports, yet the handloom industry is largely a cottage industry that takes place in homes all over the country.
As the country faces down a prolonged economic crisis that has left citizens without access to fuel and basic commodities, which has in turn led to widespread protests and political turmoil, supporting Sri Lanka’s economy is more critical than ever. The crisis has extended to the garment sector which has historically experienced unsustainable practices, low remuneration for workers, and recent disruptions in supply chains post COVID-19.
Despite garments making up such a large percentage of the country’s exports, the art of handlooming is declining due to a variety of factors, from an aging labour force to uncompetitive pricing, and simply the inability to compete with large textile factories.
It was within this context that Selyn was born.
Founded in 1991 by Sandra Wanduragala in her garage with 15 women, Selyn is now Sri Lanka’s only Fair-trade certified handloom company and one of its largest social enterprises. With a network of 1000 artisans, Selyn’s goal is to revive Sri Lanka’s handloom heritage while providing a sustainable livelihood for the local and rural artisans.
“Our mission is to grow a sustainable social business based on the principles of fair trade in order to uplift the living standards of rural women and men,” says Selyna Peiris, Co-Founder and Partner and daughter of founder Sandra. With a focus on female artisans, Selyn empowers their members by providing them with the technical and design skills required to contribute to the workforce. Meanwhile, the Selyn Foundation provides access to health camps, child-care facilities, life skills programs and leadership trainings, helping members to strike a better work-life balance
“Following fair-trading practices, our social business mechanisms ensure that our networks are not only empowered financially but that we go out of our way to create a way of life within which they will thrive.”
Last year, Selyn was awarded a grant from USAID CATALYZE Private Sector Development Activity to support the company’s vision of leading a Sri Lankan handloom revival and transitioning its business to an export-driven model. Through the grant, the team received support to revamp its product and digital strategies and expand into global markets, as well as to integrate blockchain technology for greater transparency into its supply chain; pioneering global trends and demands for impact driven value chains.
Supporting Selyn through Palladium Day
Each July, Palladium’s 3,000 employees around the globe celebrate Palladium Day to mark the company’s founding in 1965. Part of the celebrations include a gift each employee receives to thank them for their hard work and commitment throughout the year.
This year, CEO Christopher Hirst was keen that the gifts also serve to support the communities in which the company works. Palladium’s CATALYZE team in Sri Lanka has worked extensively with Selyn, and proudly proposed them as Palladium Day suppliers.
“Selyn is a great example of a women-owned business driven by two generations of passionate female entrepreneurs,” explains Juan Forero, Palladium Team Lead in Sri Lanka. “Selyn has a strong set of values at the heart of what they do, including innovation, sustainability, and community development. We’re inspired by them and we’ill continue to work with so many more small businesses in Sri Lanka to promote inclusive growth as Selyn does.”
For Palladium Head of Communications Elizabeth Godo, the experience of working with Selyn was a pleasant surprise.
“Anyone who’s had to source, brand, coordinate, and ship items on time to over 90 countries knows how challenging it can be, and how important it is to have a reliable supplier,” she describes. “There are so many mass producers to choose from, but we were inspired by our CEO’s ask to do better – to use this as an opportunity to deepen our impact and support a local partner and community. Selyn was a joy to work with, the quality of their work is excellent, and our staff are loving their gifts.”
As Palladium celebrated on 28 July, everyone received artisan-created, handloom-based and Palladium-branded notebooks and coasters, highlighting the breadth and depth of Selyn’s member artisans’ work.
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