‘Innovation Island' Sri Lanka as Regional Hub for Creative Industries
AOD harnesses Sri Lanka’s potential of its championed creative industries
to accelerate growth
The ‘Innovation Island’ campaign is AOD’s most ambitious international campaign to date. It
showcases the very best of what Sri Lanka has to offer in order to encourage the world to visit,
study and do business with Sri Lanka. The campaign draws heavily on the creative industries to
do this, and in doing so, aims to promote many industry sectors including apparel—its long-term
partner industry. AOD will be premiering the ‘Innovation Island’ campaign at its Mercedes-Benz
Fashion Week event (25th – 28th October) and Sri Lanka Design Festival (9th -11th November)
this year, that nearly hundred delegates from around the world will attend.
‘Innovation Island’ premiers Sri Lanka as South Asia’s fresh creative dynamic and as a place
where a powerful new ecosystem converging creativity, innovation and business, is in the
making. It demonstrates how the world can meet a new kind of maker—whether low-tech or
high-tech, and join a new conversation on putting design at the service of building a better
tomorrows. It is where South Asia’s new hub for design led innovation opens its doors to the
world. This is ‘Innovation island’ Sri Lanka. Linda Speldewinde, founder of AOD, and the driving
force behind ‘Innovation Island’ explains the concept as she joins us for an exclusive interview
discussing how Sri Lanka will capitalise its creativity to power up a whole new era in the sector.
For us as a country, what does this all mean?
Globally, the creative economy has been recognised as a critical force for generating new
sources of growth, creating new jobs, fostering new drivers of competitiveness, and promoting
new business opportunities. In countries such as the United Kingdom, creative industries have
grown twice as fast as the rest of the economy in recent years, accounting for over ten per cent
of GDP. It has also been recognised that in order to leverage this opportunity, there is a need
for creative industries to attain national recognition through national-level policy frameworks. In
Sri Lanka too, we are at that level where we have initiated this process, and have two
international governments supporting us too. The UK with the creative industries’ knowledge
and the Netherlands with design led innovation, circular economy, design thinking and the
know-how which is helping us re engineer design in a completely new way. Design is what fuels
the creative industries to a great extent, and we need to keep up. We have two key dialogues
led by these two countries taking place at the Sri Lanka Design Festival this November.
Like all of these developed countries where the creative economics have worked, in order for Sri
Lanka to continue to grow the creative industries in size and significance, we have to establish
ourselves internationally. And, for that we are using AOD’s following internationally and owning
it for Sri Lanka, getting the South Asian region involved and further establishing Sri Lanka as the hotspot. It’s the international positioning that we will be looking to establish with the ‘Innovation
Island’ campaign that AOD is driving with our two flagship events.
For Sri Lanka what this means is having more opportunities, a global positioning, the chance to
be the voice out of South Asia for this sector. To do this, we have to be effectively internalised
and create the jobs of the future. This means that the creative industries must move from the
margins to the mainstream of economic and policy thinking. That challenge is as much for
government as it is for business and needs to provide the creative industries with an unrivalled
pool of talent to draw on and the same formal, structural support associated with other
industries, such as assistance with infrastructure and skills development. Further, given that the
training for future jobs start now and understanding that creativity is as important as literacy, the
role of education is paramount in building the creative thinking required to define the future. In
order to move forward further in a meaningful manner, a group of stakeholders from the public
and private sector and other key influencers need to be formalised and this is where we are
currently. But, on an international level, we are looking to leverage the network, the following
and the recognition that AOD has built to over the years for Sri Lanka whilst we grow the
national recognition and policies for the creative industries and further establish a deeper multi
stakeholder engagement across the country and the region.
What makes Sri Lanka an ‘Innovation Island’?
‘Innovation’ is a broad term. But, what we are capturing with ‘Innovation Island’ is simply how
Sri Lanka does it. It is a statement that it isn’t just any kind of innovation that Sri Lanka is
presenting—but a philosophy that takes its own unique shape. It shows that ‘innovation’ in Sri
Lanka, is influenced by our history, geography, multi ethnic cultures and simply by being an
island that is so clearly separated from the world, yet always at the crossroads of international
Everybody knows how creative industries are the future of the global economy, and anyone who
has the pulse of tomorrow is now behind the idea of ‘capitalising creativity’. In this picture, Sri
Lanka is a new kind of creative paradise in the making. Led by a modern design education
movement that derives from our own creative culture and strengthened by our technologies and
deep-rooted practices in sustainability and wellbeing, Sri Lanka is really an unusual island with a
unique creative economy in place. And what more, with our strategic placement and global
reputation as a creative paradise in South Asia, Sri Lanka has what it takes to become a
regional voice and a hub for design and innovation. ‘Innovation Island’ embodies this essence.
Where does all this stand in the global landscape and what relevance does it have?
At a deeper level, human evolution is at a new height where aesthetics have come parallel to
function, where our sensory delight is an essential part of our wellbeing. In this kind of world,
creativity and innovation have become more important than ever before. This why the world’s
brightest economic minds are saying that ‘creativity means business’ now. With this shift, Sri
Lanka is beginning to recognise its best new competitive edge as design led innovation.
AOD—Sri Lanka’s design led innovation nucleus—is facilitating the research, strategic
knowledge and project leadership to bring about a national policy for the development of the
creative industries in the country, in a way that it impacts the South Asian subcontinent and
eventually, even beyond. In addition to drawing in new socioeconomic benefits for the country
through the creative industries, this strategy also aims to position Sri Lanka’s regional
leadership in design led innovation.
Where does Sri Lanka Design Festival and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Sri Lanka come
into this picture?
Sri Lanka Design Festival and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Sri Lanka are events AOD
founded with partners in the apparel industry such as Brandix, MAS and Hirdaramani, Coats
and key stakeholders such as DIMO supported by government leaders such as the Export
Development Board. Both these events aim to showcase, to a specifically invited international
delegation and through them, the influential design-business ecosystem in Sri Lanka. This is to
draw in new benefits for the country and centre the South Asian hub for design led innovation in
the island. So essentially, these two events SLDF and MBFW are facilitators of opportunities
and networks between design-innovation led brands, businesses and individuals from anywhere
in the world, and those in Sri Lanka. We are going to make the best use of these two events this
year to fully establish Sri Lanka and put it on the map, and consolidate its positioning.
How will Sri Lanka Design Festival and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Sri Lanka do this?
Both events will focus on showcasing Sri Lanka’s best and most unusual infrastructures for
creating fashion and design geared towards sustainability and innovation, to a powerful
international audience as mentioned above. SLDF and MBFW will promote and showcase
progressive work methods (such as graduate-industry collaborations, artisan-designer co-
creations etc.), cross-disciplinary initiatives that connect fashion and design with art, heritage,
technology, wellbeing and sustainability, and a selection of Sri Lanka’s low-tech and high-tech
production facilities for both fashion and design. Another important element is creating platforms
for thought-leadership in fashion and design, through forums, talks and workshops that share
interesting knowledge, creative intel and research.
Can you tell us more about these forums and knowledge-sharing platforms?
The South Asian Apparel Leadership Forum held as part of MBFW this year has a reputation as
one of the most inspiring meeting places for the regional fashion industry. We’re talking the likes
of Mahesh Amalean and Ashroff Omar discussing the future of their business with global
fashion business authorities from Copenhagen, London and New York. This year we will tackle
the idea of change makers in industry, what makes them and why its essential for businesses to
nurture this ‘changemaker mindset’. The Sustainable Fashion Symposium will be one of the
most progressive discussions we host this year, with a fantastic speaker panel discussing how
fashion’s circular economy can be created, with a special focus on Sri Lanka. A discussion that
will essentially influence the course of creative education in South Asia is the ‘Design Education
Forum’ where the design education model for the 21st century, incorporating a mix of skills, soft
skills, foundation literacies and the confluence of technology, innovation and sustainability, will be outlined. Meanwhile, the Female Futures Forum will be a very unusual one where a powerful
workforce of the creative economy will be put under the microscope to understand how we can
make the best out of them. Sri Lanka Design Festival and AOD will host the 2018 edition of
‘Design Katha’ a young, inspiring forum that sells out every year, because it presents
remarkable design talent from home and abroad along with their work and processes. SLDF will
also present a ‘Creative Industries’ Think Tank’ which becomes an interactive meeting-of-minds
where strategies and future policies will be shaped by diverse creative communities. Hoteliers
Forum is another fantastic one where tourism, hospitality and creative industries will sit together
to share their thinking on a future where their businesses will be woven together. These are
some of the conversations that we are so proud to contribute from Sri Lanka, to international
fashion and design.
So what is the main message that you are taking Internationally?
The key message delivered from both these events is that Sri Lanka is an exciting new
destination for fashion and design that is geared towards sustainability and innovation. An island
where businesses, industries, designers, artisans, educators, students and fresh graduates are
open to collaborate with brands, businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs from all over the
world. With what we present this year, we will act as an advocate of fashion, design, innovation
and sustainability, and their convergence with business. Sri Lanka is ‘Innovation Island’ and we
have worked hard over the last 15-18 years to get here, we have the substance, the following,
the global fan base and we are just simply consolidating it all for our country this year. That’s
really what’s happening and our teams are all really excited to be doing this.
Why is AOD behind this?
AOD is part of a complete ecosystem of businesses built upon design led innovation. Founded
on the philosophy that design and innovation can impact transformative development for Sri
Lanka and the rest of the South Asian region, AOD utilises creativity and new ideas to reinvent
industries, realign products and services and mobilise talent with commercial relevance. It
functions as a dynamic collective and includes a network of entities that begin with education
and stems to talent development, mentorship, brands and platforms that create opportunities for
recognition and entrepreneurship.
AOD being connected to the industries of education, retail and real-estate, providing retailing
design and innovation lead ideas, services and products is naturally a part of the founding vision
of the creative industries of Sri Lanka and it’s well poised to lead this. AOD is driven forward by
a multicultural workforce of over hundred resident experts that include futurists, academics,
creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, designers, analysts and young dreamers and collaborators
range from artisanal, curatorial, policy-making, industrial and diplomatic backgrounds among
many more. So, it is fitting that an educator takes the lead to inspire the business world and the state to take a deeper look at how best to bridge talent and business for the future. After all, education is the
birthplace of a country’s economy—the breeding ground of its future professionals. We have always had the view that education is not just about instilling knowledge and skill in people. It is
also responsible for bridging the gap between talent and business—taking the lead in pointing
towards the future where a country’s economic potential is better harnessed. For AOD, this has
always been the reasoning that leads it to collaborate so closely with governments and business
to catalyze economic potential of creativity.
To you personally what does this mean?
I absolutely love my country and in the early days had a real free hand to build this sector from
nothing. To me it was about taking what our country has to offer, and as a region what we had
to offer and creating the kind of design generation that would go out there and add value to the
economy and to industry and make a difference, in terms of creating impact. We are nowhere at
the end of journey but today we are seeing the results of all of this. At the time, what we had to
take global was the apparel industry and the visionary thinking some of their industry leaders
have, which was unique and had the ability to link cottage industries like handloom and other
craft. Since then, we have had many industries and others come on board to join this mission.
To me, inspiring others around this vision and getting people on board has not been a
challenge. I guess when you’re focused around building impact and actually you have the
credibility of doing the work for it, it’s not difficult. Now what’s important is going to be taking Sri
Lanka’s positioning global and putting it on the map, scaling up and establishing a deeper multi
stakeholder base locally and regionally. For me, from an AOD point of view too, it makes sense
as at AOD we are driving the next step and driving the Colombo Innovation Tower project these
days on Duplication Road across our current space. And, we are hoping to use this as a base to
drive this whole sector to the next level. Colombo Innovation Tower is a physical 100,000 Sqft
plus space but that gears up to open next year. I have spent many months, this year, travelling
across the world and selling Sri Lanka’s message and inspiring key international stakeholders to
come over and the results of that is what we will see this October and November.
Any closing remarks?
“The ‘Innovation Island’ thinking may be led by AOD, but as it actualises, it is really a concerted
effort between many forward-thinking, intelligent partners. We’ve got the support of the most
visionary partners from the apparel industry from MAS, Brandix to Hirdaramani ,Coats , GT
Nexus & from automobile giants like Dimo, plus the state sector represented by the EDB and
international governments like the Netherlands’ Embassy & the British Council. Our Banking
Partners HNB, advisors PWC, long-time supporter Mount Lavinia Hotel, Wijeya Newspapers
who have always helped us share our ideas and gather momentum for the work. We have many
other supporting partners who make our events work and their incredible engagement will be
shared with our event media as this campaign unfolds. The team at AOD, our other teams at
FashionMarket.lk and many more who come together to make it all work is behind this.