If time was a long golden beach: Villa Océane, print

When Villa Océane first approached us through the fantastic design studio Mooniak to create the written narrative for a print brochure, their initial brief was to write a light-hearted piece with surf lingo. But, we saw something different. Looking at Villa Océane’s interior, moods and offer, it was obvious that their brand was more sophisticated and aimed to create blissful experiences that were not just about chasing waves. So, we proposed a much more poetic, blissed-out tone for writing; and it worked.

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SRI x FMLK: Digital content

SRI, the incredibly unique Sri Lankan transeasonal fashion brand commissioned us to create written content for launching its collection on the online fashion portal FMLK. Staying true to the brand’s allure of uber-cool tropical vibrancy, we worked on creating something that is commercially sound, hard-selling and Instagram friendly.

Get lost in paradise through a timeless story artisan-woven in rich textures of twills, ombre and herringbone in tropical colours made from memories of somewhere magical. Get into the mood with urban minimalist style meets futuristic Kenzo-esque silhouettes, perfect for the here-and-now transients, ever-curious culturists and neoteric wanderers whether in London, Tokyo, Paris, Colombo or New York. 

Presenting the master expressionist behind the looks that left some serious impressions this London Fashion Week; Amesh Wijesekera, alumnus of @AOD made heads turn with his award-winning international debut at GFW 2015. He returns to the catwalk as the designer, curator and stylist behind SRI’s trans-seasonal launch capsule that got everyone vibing in tropical modernism at London Fashion Week SS18. 

A mind flowing free in thread and colour: Joan Leth Pedersen biographic article

Joan is a fascinating multi artist with a Sri Lankan burgher heritage. She lives in Denmark now, but returns to Sri Lanka every year to her family estate in North-West of the island. When she commissioned us to write a piece about her life and work, we went and met her there at that beautiful old estate. We spoke about her exquisite embroidery work, and her love for painting. Joan’s life was a fascinating viewpoint into life lived in Colombo over fifty years ago. Her story made it to the Sunday Times in Sri Lanka, which you can still find online here.

A mind flowing free in thread and colour


Hidden amidst the foliage of the outskirts of Wennappuwa, there is a coconut estate that is a breathtaking composition of human and nature. Coming in, you will be pleasantly warmed in the sunlight pouring through the cane palms standing guard along its impressive driveway. It nestles a charming planters’ bungalow with arched windows opening into sun spangled verandahs and further in, a beautifully dimmed living space and cool sleeping chambers. Between the fun play of the vintage furniture, rare heirloom treasures and a twist of Scandi inspired postmodernism, there is an obvious air of creativity floating through the bungalow.
When you meet its hostess—you instantly know her as the source of that creativity. Joan Leth Pedersen is in the autumn of her years, and radiantly beautiful with a sense of style that could only speak for an intensely creative being. She’s the kind of hostess who excites you with her meticulous devotion to fine hospitality—you just know it’s going to be a good day.

Joan was born in Sri Lanka to Burgher parents who moved to the UK to educate their children. They also travelled between their island home and Malaysia for work in the
plantations business. She met her husband, Jens Leth Pedersen in Malaysia fifty eight years ago, at a New Year’s Eve dance, ten minutes to midnight—he has remained smitten since. An accomplished hand embroidery artist with truly remarkable artistry, Joan practices in Denmark where she lives with Jens. But, for eight sunlit weeks a year, the family estate in Sri Lanka remains her home in paradise.

This year, Joan has brought down a large portion of her exquisite archive of handmade embroidery based wearable art. This is for a rare media exposure of her works. “It’s mpossible for me to put a price on my work”, Joan declares, “because they are my babies,” she laughs. “But, seriously, it’s because my art has never equated to money. It’s not about that for me, it’s never been,” she explains. Joan believes that artistry does not always have
to have a commercial element to it—in a sense, an artist does not have to cater to the incessant needs of a society. Art can simply exist—much like beauty or nature, without
having to fulfill the human desire to own, to consume. Her work has an ethereal charm about it and draws inspiration from flora and fauna, abstract shapes and colour-play. Stylistically, she finds kinship with Chinese, Danish and Venetian embroidery techniques. But, the most impressive is her own style—an embroidery technique that Joan invented fusing patchwork
and threadwork to bring about an unusual effect. Here, cut out fabric pieces are ironed on to ‘glue paper’ and pieced together with embroidered thread work to finally reveal one mosaic-like image held together with perfect thread work. “I don’t know how long it takes to do one
piece—it takes hours and hours and hours. But, I love it, and I can immerse in it completely.”

Something striking about Joan’s work is its unapologetic femininity. Her work bears unrestrained female charm with soft colour palettes, dainty motifs and intricate filigrees. But, it’s anything but ordinary. The embroidery itself is unusual in its exotic mix of styles and technique while Joan’s decisive direction in their placement on the garment and how they work with the female body also add to the unicity. “I always think of where this embroidery will go on a body, and I tend to embellish the unusual corners or the unnoticed curves…it does not always have to be on your upper chest tucked away to a side.”

Her process is fluid and natural, much like her work. “When I get an idea, I just have to do it,” she says echoing all impassioned artists. Her inspirations flood in through nature. In Denmark, the contained cool of Scandinavian landscapes influence her abstract oil painting and designed knitwear. While in Sri Lanka, the island’s paradisiacal abundance seems to translate to Joan’s vivid watercolours, often florals, and finally—to her intricate embroidery.

“Embroidery was always in our family,” she recalls the beginnings into her most accomplished form of artistry. Joan remembers being captivated by her mother’s hand
drawn book documenting the baby clothes that she embroidered. As a child, Joan leafed through its painstakingly detailed drawings. She also remembers how she first fell in love with that incredible feeling of being enveloped in an exquisitely made outfit, through the finely embroidered dresses handmade by her mother. Later, she went to complete an embroidery and knitting course at the Denmark College of Handicrafts where she scored full marks, before plunging into the arts in full vigour. She went on to exhibit in unusual locations
around Europe, such as the abandoned church in Aalborg commune and the court house turned museum Tinghuset in Nibe. Beyond embroidery and knitting, Joan also began to see her art within the context of fashion. It came naturally to her, because style was simply in
her.

“I always think that clothing should be a complete expression. Personally, I like to make underwear to match my work in order to avoid store-bought pieces that peek outside an otherwise perfect outfit!” she exclaims echoing a practice that still forces her to custom make intimatewear for every wearable item that displays her embroidery or knitting. In her heyday in Colombo, Joan was featured in the fashion and lifestyle pages of the local dailies for her bold sense of style and fashion. Her wedding gown with a spectacular floor-gracing train with
hundreds of hand made flowers pressed out in silk in three layers, made fashion headlines and was borrowed by news pages. Style was definitely her thing.

With Joan seated on the verandah of her family bungalow, it is almost visibly evident in the background, how her mind has flown free through the space, touching it with her devotion to beauty; the fiery heliconias set off against the earthly terracotta of the vase, the perfect geometry in the arrangement of hand-painted porcelain…they all vouch for her. As her life approaches a tranquil sunset, Joan has developed a yearning to share her arts as
a teacher and a mentor. “I have taught several times in my life, and it has always been rewarding. I still keep in touch with some of my students.” She hopes to share her expertise and extraordinary techniques with young fashion designers, textile artists, embroiderers and
entities in textile related arts, crafts and design—those who would appreciate it and hopefully, reinvent it in their own way. But, there’s more to it than that too. Joan sees that mastering your creativity as a way to live a wonderful life. “Creativity has helped me to live life on an even keel…being immersed in creativity means that troubles can’t trouble you. So, I’d like to share that.” And with that, Joan offers the greatest gift a creator could leave behind in this world.
To contact Joan for private lessons and workshops for groups or institutes during January-
February 2019 in Sri Lanka, reach her on gogotojojo@gmail.com

Sri Lanka Design Festival: Editorial, promotional and environmental

Sri Lanka Design Festival is one of our biggest annually recurring commissions. Having written for the event since its inception ten years ago, our relationship with the SLDF brand is quite strong. Everything, from writing the content that promotes the event, news and press material to crafting written pieces that provide on-site information and inspiration during the event are all within our scope.

SLDF annually hosted many fringe events with their own identities. Often one of our biggest challenges was in maintaining a consistent brand voice while not losing the individuality of each fringe event.
Writing and editing press and media pieces for Sri Lanka Design Festival often involved interviews and connecting the many components of the festival.
Often, we would be involved in coining the linguistic theme of the festival. The Local/Global theme we developed for 2012 festival edition is still one of our favourites. The thematic identity here was developed by Thilini Perera.
In some festival editions, depending on the set designer’s vision for the year, there will be informative content displayed at the event. In this case, our scope always stretches to include environmental writing components like these pieces at the 2014 festival.

Suba Gaman: digital and print content

Suba Gaman is the pioneer in tuk tuk tours in Sri Lanka before the market got flooded with similar brands that somehow, could never do it as well. In Sinhala, ‘Suba Gaman’ wishes well for a journey ahead. The identity developed by Sri Lankan visual designer Thilini Perera was that of a fun, easygoing, approachable brand that had a touch of tropical vibrancy to it. Keeping with this identity, our challenge was to create written content that was flexible for both print and web.

A city, culture and chaos on three-wheels

Colombo is a place where fantastic remnants of culture and exquisite glimpses into history exist side by side with absolute chaos. This tiny island nation’s commercial capital– Colombo is slowly growing into a full-fledged metropolitan. This is why its last remaining strongholds of a bygone quaint city teeming with heritage becomes increasingly interesting and also sadly, more tiresome to reach amidst the daily pandemonium of traffic and business. This is where ‘Suba-gaman’ saves the day. This small-scale local tour operator conducted solely on three-wheeled vehicles is run by husband-wife duo. They host a fantastic sightsee of hidden city gems which are a fun mix of beautiful, quirky, awe-inspiring and just plain bizarre. Trained drivers who double as English-speaking, informative tour guides are all yours minus the fancy charges making it easily among the most delightful and economical ways to experience Colombo.

The little three-wheeled taxis fondly known by locals as ‘tuk-tuks’ after the sound of their sputtering little engines, are infamous for their surprising speed, ability to manoeuver through tiny streets and traffic with ease and open sides that allow the city to sweep right through you with all its sounds, sights and scents in high definition. The lovely people at Suba Gaman allow tourists to get this adrenaline-charged experience of riding a tuk-tuk, within a safe setting, assisted by trained, English-speaking tuk-tuk drivers. Yes, they are real tuk-tuk drivers who conduct tours with Suba-gaman on a reserved basis. This is awesome, because these men who are patron dwellers of Colombo have their own takes, stories and memories of the city which they will share with you throughout the journey.

What is truly cool about Suba-gaman is their standard tour itinerary, which is no standard tour itinerary by any means. Keeping an admirable distance from ‘touristy’ main retail streets of the city, Suba-gaman takes you on a rather unusual and eccentric string of places that will give you the most raw tour experience of Colombo. The approximately 2.5 hour excursion steers you through a series of fun places like the creepy old Town Hall Museum, the beautifully post-gothic Wolvendaal Church, colourful Sri Kailasanthar Hindu temple and even obscure delights like the jail cell of the last king of Sri Lanka, a queer coin museum and the Galle Face Lighthouse that looks like it was specially made for sunset selfies. With a few more added perks like a mineral water bottle and king coconut drinks (not forgetting your own obliging tour-guide), Suba-gaman is a sure deal for 25 PP USD.

‘Suba gaman’, in the native Sinhala tongue, is an affirmative bid of farewell to a traveller for a joyful journey. And that’s certainly what this mini city-escapade is.

SRI look book; fashion editorial

SRI is definitely the most unique fashion brand we’ve seen in Sri Lanka; that’s a big statement to make, but the brand does truly live up to it. It is a brand that revolves around Sri Lanka’s mystique as the island of serendipity, where an allure of innocence and mystery mix with natural beauty. SRI captures it so well with modern style statements that could really work anywhere in the world. To create the introduction for SRI, we followed the brand identity that was created by The Future Laboratory—world’s leading trend forecasting agency.

Colombo Design Studio: Digital content

Colombo Design Studio is Sri Lanka’s first product design studio, and for the longest time, the only one. Its founder Lee Bazalgette is one of the most pragmatic designers we’ve met. Like him, CDS is also a function-first, minimal, fuss free brand. Writing their website content, our task was to make it interesting and in line with this brand identity of the studio. CDS is also an approachable brand, which we interpreted as an easy-going, semi-formal conversational tone.

Innovation Island: Sri Lanka’s creative industries’ strategy

This is probably one of the most interesting projects that we’ve consulted on. When AOD commissioned Public Works for a monumental project that involved playing a part in strategising and branding Sri Lanka’s creative industries policy proposal, it was very exciting. While the local creative industries strategy was something that a large number of stakeholders—from British Council Sri Lanka, the Export Development Board and the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade, to creative businesses like the Colombo Design Studio and Selyn—this particular proposal for branding the creative industries came from AOD. We were involved in coining the name ‘Innovation Island’ and crafting the first strategic communications that went out to the public on this story.

A national game-plan for Sri Lanka’s creative industries? About time.

Everyone is talking about Sri Lanka—new opportunities, interesting collaborations, untapped markets, fresh talent, paradisiacal beauty and a wealth of culture and heritage for inspiration. In this promising landscape, a major new focus is the island’s creative economy, and the enormous potential that it holds to transform the country. Efficiently harnessing this potential means having a national policy that encourages practitioners, supports emerging talent, provides infrastructure, facilitates innovation, research and education at the very least. But, why are Sri Lanka’s creative industries important enough for a national policy? Because ‘creative capital’ is central to today’s economies, and will undoubtedly become even more important as we progress into the fourth industrial revolution. Creativity, basically, is the new power currency. Keep reading.

Experts compare fuel energy—the power currency of the twentieth century economy, to creativity which is predicted to dominate the twenty-first century. In the same way that access to energy and the policies around oil determined the geopolitics of the past century, creativity will be among what drives tomorrow. This is why governments around the world have made some of their best efforts in policy-making to form their national strategy for creative industry development.

Britain, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Canada, Singapore and South Korea are some of the leading global success stories of nations that have progressed towards enormous economic growth by harnessing the ingenuity of their people through effective national policies. The eleventh Five-Year Plan of the People’s Republic of China made it evident that the East Asian superpower aims “to move from made in China, to designed in China”—a powerful example of the worldwide understanding that generating original creative content is more valuable in the current economy than manufacturing larger product volumes. In 2015, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the creative industries in the US bring in $698 billion (Dh2.56 trillion) to the national economy via 4.7 million jobs. Similarly, the British government declared its creative industries  to be worth $116.7 billion per year in the $2.56 trillion national economy. The growth of creative industries in the Middle East and the North African region has demonstrated impressive results, with the design sector valued at $100 billion in 2014 (Mena Design Outlook report, Dubai Fashion & Design Council). Zooming out on the wider global picture, United Nations’ survey of the worldwide creative economy concluded with the following, “The interface between creativity, culture, economics and technology, as expressed in the ability to create and circulate intellectual capital, has the potential to generate income, jobs and exports while at the same time promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development. This is what the creative economies have begun to do.”

Tapping into Sri Lanka’s creative talent pool with the right focus and strategic approach requires a national policy that converges ideas, efforts and transactions effectively. In 2018, the first discussions on proposing a national policy for the creative industries was initiated in collaboration with AOD and the British Council Sri Lanka. This is where it all begins.

Who is behind Sri Lanka’s national policy for the creative industries’ development?

The first discussions on Sri Lanka’s national policy for the creative industries included representatives from the Ministry of Development Strategies & International Trade, the Board of Investments Sri Lanka, Export Development Board, the National Design Centre, University of Moratuwa and AOD. Keep reading.

Bringing in Britain’s expertise in forming and implementing strategies for developing a creative economy, the British Council Sri Lanka and Jane Rapley—professor emerita of the celebrated design university Central Saint Martins’ UK and AOD’s academic advisory chair, also joined in. As practitioners of creativity in cultural and commercial realms, artist and designer Anoma Wijewardene, and representatives of 99X Technology, Colombo Design Studio and the Colombo Design Market were also part of the discussions.

The panel concluded on the necessity of a nurturing a complete ecosystem of practitioners, commercial entities, education institutes, events, cultural units, infrastructures and research as well as the establishment of standards, ethics and codes of conduct, for a three-sixty approach to developing the creative industries.

Encouraging diversity in people, ideas and cultures, creating value for them and celebrating the creative industries were also highlighted.

Establishing Sri Lanka’s identity as a creative nation and bridging the communication gap between artists, designers and technologists, scientists was also part of these initial discussions. Developing the next generation of creative talent right by incorporating design thinking into the school system, and whether the state design universities were being made accessible to the students that are truly passionate about creativity through the existing z-score system, were also discussed by the educators and government representatives at the meeting. 

The group also brainstormed ways to navigate around challenges like the lack of design and innovation centres, art galleries, creative spaces, public resources like creative cafés and museums, design publications and dedicated culture pages. The role of entrepreneurship, mentorship, technological support and managing the attitude towards risk-taking were also part of the conversation.

These ideas will be taken forward to form the national policy on Sri Lanka’s creative industries as a partnership between the state and the private sector, under the leadership of AOD and the British Council Sri Lanka.

The future we want from Sri Lanka’s creative economy 

Creativity has been proven to open up new avenues, unlock big ideas and bring in fresh connections between people, products, services, brands and businesses. It can help businesses achieve superior market edge, leapfrog competition and leave a lasting impression in the minds of consumers. So, with all this hype about creativity being the next big thing, how exactly would formalising a national creative industries policy play out for Sri Lanka? Keep reading.

In many ways, a focused national strategy to develop the creative industries will bring in high returns very fast in both export and domestic markets, as this potent industry can produce a remarkable growth in revenue and become a solid pillar for the Sri Lankan economy. 

But, it’s not just business. The development of the creative industries also carry non-monetary values such as inclusive social development to facilitating new understanding between diverse groups and ethnicities. The creative industries are also significant job creators, and have the potential to create thousands of new employment opportunities for Sri Lankans. A sound creative economy can also contribute to the overall well-being of communities, individual self esteem and the quality of life, leading towards sustainable development. 

Here are some of the key takeaways from the initial discussions that will be taken forward to form Sri Lanka’s national policy on creative industries.

Creating understanding and facilitating focus studies on how the creative industries will be a driver and enabler of economic, social and environmental development processes in Sri Lanka. Such studies will allow the government and partners to project tangible outcomes and attach financial deliverables to the policies. Creating awareness on the creative industries development and its benefits will change the public perception on the sector and garner national support.

Discovering the available opportunities by investing on mapping Sri Lankan creative industries’ assets. This data will be instrumental in accurately projecting the necessary resources for creative industries’ development. 

Allocating state and private sector investments for creativity, innovation and sustainable creative enterprise development in Sri Lanka. 

Investing in developing the local creative talent pool through education, scholarships, opportunities for exposure and professional capacity-building to empower artists, designers and creative entrepreneurs. 

Recognising that the creative industries carry significant non-monetary value that contributes to achieving human-centred, inclusive and sustainable development for Sri Lanka.

Recognising that the development of the local creative industries will have a positive impact on other sectors, particularly exports, like tea, apparel and tourism to bridge local product and service propositions with international consumer tastes and needs.

Got more to add, discuss or propose? It’s important to us—let us know.

At a time when the world is transforming itself rapidly, we must recognise the importance and the power of the creative industries as enablers and drivers of a new and sustainable kind of development for Sri Lanka. It’s the future we want, and this is a big step in the right direction towards it.

This pull quote is from the Daily FT feature on the campaign. Here’s a link to the full article, which we created for DFT.

A new Sri Lankan style: FMLK editorial content

We’ve been working with the Sri Lankan fashion e-tailer FMLK for a few years now. While the brand uses their in-house promo team for everyday communications, they hire us to articulate the style philosophies and stories behind special collections.

For FMLK it’s important to communicate the inspiration and story behind each collection because this is really what builds the connection between the consumer and the looks they see on the screen. Being a retailer that predominantly online, the entire sales pitch of the product was the content that consumers saw on their screens. So, the challenge for the writer was in keeping things fresh, even when two collections came out each week, and allowing South Asian consumers to see how these cool new styles actually have a story that connects back to their cultures and roots.

In collections like this, the target audience was slightly older in the thirty-somethings; the content had to speak to them, with a degree of seriousness and a sense of cool.
Other collections were more laidback, casual and fun to target the impulse buyers and everyday style junkies who want to wear something nice for the next occasion.
Sometimes, the tone had to take a drastic change when the collections were for kids, or men or under a special theme. Here, the brand values in offering a new Sri Lankan style became the connector; the writer had to maintain this link to maintain brand consistency.

Female Futures Forum: editorial and promotional content

Female Futures Forum was originally founded in London by The Future Laboratory. When the Sri Lankan entrepreneur and female empowerment advocate Linda Speldewinde brought forward a South Asian edition in Sri Lanka, our studio Public Works was commissioned to design and write the promotional and editorial content for it. The forum revolved around discussing the direction of collective female futures in the workplace, what we need to do in order to project it in the direction that we want and how to get about it. When writing the content and designing pieces for this forum, we wanted to maintain this bold and futuristic outlook.