Interview with Heshanie Tennekoon the Fashion360 Designer behind Ileana
Heshanie Tennekoon is the designer behind Ileana, a label that aspires to translate the beauty of cultures by creating a link between the east and the west. She aims to bring more recognition to her Sri Lankan community by incorporating techniques passed on by generations, which Heshanie fears could be lost in time.
The 23-year-old designer spoke to us about her journey into fashion design, and what it feels like to be a creative anomaly in a clerical family.
What made you decide to pursue a career in fashion design?
I’d always wanted to start my own label but never had the right motivation. I think it was something I actually avoided, to be honest. I had a passion for it but the idea of actually delving in and starting my own business terrified me.
I ended up studying business before doing an Advanced Diploma in Fashion Design. I realised then that fashion was something I needed to pursue. The fashion course taught me techniques such as sewing and drawing but I still didn’t know how to make it a business. Funnily enough, my boyfriend received an email about the Fashion360 program days before applications closed. Reading the description, I realised that it was everything I was looking for.
What inspires the look of Ileana?
I’m very close to my family in Sri Lanka. I like to go back there often and pick up the techniques they use in their garment making. It’s important to me to make sure these techniques are passed on and appreciated by a wider community which is why I incorporate them into my designs. There’s so much talent in Sri Lanka that deserves recognition. My goal is to build a bridge between the Sri Lankan and Australian fashion industry.
How does your family feel about you starting a label?
My family are incredibly supportive. They’re always there to encourage me whenever I feel discouraged. It’s good to be reassured that just because you don’t get something straight away it doesn’t mean that you won’t get it eventually, or that you don’t have the aptitude. They’re always asking me if I want to do a course or see someone to improve my techniques. I wouldn’t have been able to do all of this without them.
It’s funny though, I’m a bit of an anomaly in my family. No one else has pursued creativity as a career. It’s all finance, accounting…doctors! Very nine to five. It’s hard for them to relate to my journey as they’re all quite secure and stable.
What would you say has been the most challenging part about starting your own label?
The most challenging part is figuring out where my label sits within the market. That, and finances!
I do sometimes wish I’d picked a more linear career but I don’t think anything is worth more than pursuing your passion. It has definitely been a learning curve. Sometimes I feel like I know nothing!
Also, there’s been a lot of communication issues as I get a lot of prints from Sri Lanka. Only recently I received the wrong colour and print!
I’m definitely learning how to guide people better and be consistent with follow ups. You can’t just quickly jot down a task and expect it to be completed correctly.
When are you aiming to officially launch Ileana?
I want to launch next year for summer. It makes sense as my label is mostly linens and breathable fabrics. I’m looking at affordable luxury stores in Brisbane and Bondi, then Sri Lanka.
What’s in store for Ileana in the future?
I’d love for my clothes to be timeless pieces that are cherished and passed on to members of the family. Ileana is more than a brand, it’s a lifestyle choice. I want the wearer to feel the island of Sri Lanka, the wind and the sand, the coconut trees. Just that peaceful warmth that comes with island living.
What would your advice be to people unsure about pursuing fashion design?
Take that leap of faith. You can do anything you want! Don’t be afraid to venture away from your nine to five job. It’s hard at the beginning to change careers but the feeling of creating something of your own is unbeatable. If you love it, go for it.
Do you want to accelerate your own emerging fashion brand? Applications are now open for the Fashion360 Accelerator 2019