Conversations in Colombo Part 1

conversations tracing the beginnings of independence

On our travel to Sri Lanka for the IKKIVI launch at The Design Collective in Colombo, we had the opportunity to spend time with some of the brightest and most beautiful minds in the city. Spending time with them and getting to know their stories was an inspiring part of our trip to this beautiful country. Read along to get to know these women leading the way. And if you visit Colombo, do drop by The Design Collective to shop some beautifully curated IKKIVI pieces alongside much more. 

It is difficult for me to recall a clear moment; I guess I have gradually developed a strong sense of independence and individuality. The many obstacles and challenges I have faced both professional and personal, have made me the strong independent woman I am today.

I am an Accountant by profession, but I found accounting monotonous and boring as I always had an affinity for interior design. I started off on a small scale, only designing and fabricating customised kitchen units. As the demand grew, I gradually set up a professional interior design company, bringing on board qualified designers, architects and a manufacturing arm to produce customised furniture items. Today, I am proud to say that we have been able to establish Westgate as the market leader in the industry.

One of the challenges I faced was building the right team with the right talent from scratch. Over a period of thirty years, we have grown from a small team to a mid size company while retaining our talent and maintaining positive work ethics. I believe in having a vision and believing in yourself. Whatever you do, give it one hundred percent. Don’t believe in luck, believe in hard work.
— Dehara Gomes

My first full-time job, when I was around seventeen. It taught me responsibility both fiscally and in terms of taking ownership over your words and work. For the first time, I began to grapple with ideas of independence and individuality. 

I’ve been a writer ever since I could remember (my parents still have sheaves of meticulously drafted stories and wild demands from me as a toddler), and began my career in finance and travel journalism. However, I didn’t quite start articulating or exploring ideas of feminism, women’s rights, and equality until about six years ago. It took a lot of introspection and exploration to really recognise what I was most drawn to and how I wanted to write about it.

I’m very passionate about gender equity and employment. I believe that sustainable and equal opportunities for women and men can drastically change South Asian society for the better. It’s the fastest (and healthiest) path to more equitable families, better eco practices, and safety.

I think as an editor of a publication, there’s a constant question of integrity. With everything you publish, there has to be a conversation about who or what the focus is, who is paying for it, and who it will affect when they read it. For example, “Is the interview subject a positive role model? Is the product detrimental to young women? Is this conglomerate-sponsored article truthful?”. It’s a constant battle between advertising interests and basic integrity.

Shadow the smartest and most driven people you can find. And don’t beat yourself up over small failures or mistakes, because in the long term nothing at work matters as much as you think it does. Don’t take someone’s opinion seriously unless they’re an expert on the topic at hand, or they care about you.
— Kinita Shenoy

My choice to divorce a husband I was made to marry at 19 through an arranged marriage left me feeling independent in every sense of the word. My family rejected me and so did his. I was caught up in a legal battle for the custody of my son. I was up against prominent lawyers my then husband was able to afford. I couldn’t afford such highly placed lawyers because my family disowned me and I was left with hardly any funding. None the less I fought. I did everything I could to stay afloat and maximised every resource I had. The outcome was successful and for a girl who had been told all her life that she couldn’t do much without a man; this was the ultimate triumph. It made me feel incredible. All the heart break was worth it because the experience I gained from that has left me feeling invincible.

I was raised in a conservative background. Although I was given an education that was without prejudice I was also told that an education for a girl was to be utilised in the event that my future husband allows it or Incase he is no longer able to financially provide for our family.
As far as a respectable career was concerned; I was conditioned to think that the only appropriate career befitting a woman was a profession associated with the sciences , math or law. In keeping with tradition I completed a degree in law after which I educated myself in Fashion design. I worked in many jobs for other companies and myself for a decade during my 20s before deciding that this was not my calling.

Creativity is in my soul and that’s what makes me happy. I stumbled across an article that read; beauticians and hairdresser have the highest job satisfaction. Something inside me clicked; It took me back to my school years when I was always called upon for hair and makeup duties during school concerts and ballets. In hindsight it’s what I always should have pursued. I took the risk and dived in head first into an education in hair and makeup and subsequently opened The Wax Museum hair and beauty salon. We are 5 years in the making and I am proud of the woman I have become and the business I have built.
I don’t regret the decade of work I did in different fields in my past as the experience I received from it has made me the woman I am today.

Challenges are far and wide. I don’t like stressing over them. I have a philosophy when it comes to work;
* If there is an issue just solve it! It doesn’t matter what/ when or who caused it.
* Once the problem is resolved evaluate what went wrong with the intention to learn from that mistake and put into place better systems to avoid the same issues going forward rather than to point fingers and assign blame.

Don’t let failure stop you, heart break destroy your spirit and fear paralyse you. Failure, heartbreak and fear, as crippling as they may become; when you overcome these obstacles the feeling of invincibility that you experience is empowering. When someone speaks, listen to hear and not to answer. If you are already forming an answer while that person is still talking then you are denying yourself the opportunity to understand, evaluate, learn and grow.
— Nadiya Fernando

Dehara Gomes is the Managing Director of Westgate Interiors.

Kinita is a Writer, Editor and Communications Specialist. Over the last decade, she’s worked for the IFC (World Bank Group), served as Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka and YAMU.lk, as well as written for publications like Conde Nast Traveler and Harper’s Bazaar.

Fathima Nadhiya Fernando. known as Nadiya Fernando is a mom to a tween Aadam Careem and wife to Ranil Fernando. She is a makeup artist, hair extension specialist, blogger, salon owner and fashion enthusiast.

Photography by RHEA GUPTE
Location Courtesy Gandhara 
Produced by IKKIVI ZINE
in partnership with The Design Collective