Nawoda Bandara, a student from the Academy of Design in Sri Lanka, has been announced as the winner of our GFWi23 Fashion Portfolio Award. We were impressed by Bandara's exceptional talent and creativity showcased in their fashion portfolio. This award recognises their outstanding work and bright future in the fashion industry. Congratulations to Nawoda Bandara on this well-deserved achievement!

Are there any key messages or themes in your project that you would like people to take away? If so, how did you choose to communicate them?

The "No Rules Like Dreams" collection I revealed at Dubai Fashion Week is a tale spun from my own challenges and a desire for a more caring world. Using clothes as my canvas, I turned my experiences with hallucinations and sleep struggles into art. The fabrics? They're not just cloth—they're a bridge linking sustainability with the treasured crafts of Sri Lanka, like handloom and crochet. I want these traditions to live on. But there's more. Beyond the threads, my collection carries a message about mental health, a subject often left in the shadows. It's a way to start conversations and support those facing similar battles. These pieces aren't just stylish—they're a journey through feelings, an invitation to stand up for understanding, eco-friendliness, and mental health awareness.

How do you feel about being a winner or runner-up for a GFWi23 award?

Winning the International Portfolio Award at GFW in Dubai is an incredibly humbling and exhilarating experience. It's an immense honour to be recognised among a pool of talented individuals from across the globe. This achievement validates the dedication, passion, and hard work I've poured into my craft. It's a surreal feeling, knowing that my work has resonated with esteemed judges and industry experts. This accolade not only serves as validation but also motivates me to continue pushing boundaries, exploring new horizons, and contributing creatively to the world of fashion. I'm truly grateful for this opportunity and excited about the doors it might open for my career.

What are your plans for the near future?

As a fashion designer from the beautiful island of Sri Lanka, my love for my country knows no bounds. I see a land brimming with hidden creativity, and my mission is to unearth and share every concealed gem with the world.

There are countless individuals out there, bursting with creativity, lacking the right inspiration and support. Just imagine if everyone had the chance and guidance to freely create, and their creations were truly valued - the world would witness unimaginable wonders.

As a young designer, that's my ultimate goal. I aspire to create a pathway where people of all ages can explore their creativity and be recognised for it. I want to unveil the hidden treasures of Sri Lanka and around the world, just as I've transformed my own hidden fears into art. My vision of fashion is different; it's about empowering everyone to be creative. My passion lies in supporting and inspiring people to do more, to be creative, and that's what I truly love and I aspire to be a star in people's hearts, celebrated for my actions and the positive impact I bring to the lives of many”.

What form does your final product take?

Each garment represents a fusion of emotions, sustainability, and heritage craft. To address sustainability, I deliberately sought out high-quality fabric waste and yarn waste sourced from various outlets. Yarn waste was collected from factories and handloom artisans, while unraveled dead stock knitted collars provided the materials for crafting handloom, crochet, and knitting techniques. This meticulous curation of materials not only upholds the importance of eco-friendliness but also emphasises the chaos and transformation associated with mental health challenges. The incorporation of these waste materials, repurposed into intricate designs, echoes a narrative of resilience and creativity, while preserving traditional crafts for future generations.

What is an aspect of the fashion industry that you would like to help improve or have a positive impact on?

Within the fashion industry, one of the critical aspects I aim to influence positively is the approach to sustainability and mental health advocacy. I aspire to catalyse a shift towards more sustainable practices by leveraging waste materials, such as high-quality fabric waste and yarn waste, as the foundation for my creations. By repurposing these materials into a collection that communicates a narrative of personal struggle and mental health awareness, I endeavour to highlight the importance of sustainable fashion as a means of fostering environmental consciousness. Moreover, my focus on shedding light on rarely discussed mental health issues through fashion aims to create a more empathetic and supportive environment within the industry, initiating conversations and fostering understanding and empowerment for individuals facing similar challenges. My goal is to transform fashion beyond being just an aesthetic statement and into a platform for social change and inclusivity.

What skills did you learn and develop during the project?

During the creation of my collection, I embarked on a transformative journey, learning and honing a myriad of skills integral to the fashion industry. From handling the entire process, including pattern cutting and crafting, to funding and managing the project, I developed an invaluable ability to multitask and be self-reliant. Embracing this self-sufficiency, I delved into various crafting techniques, exploring intricate and complex pattern cutting methods, expanding my creative repertoire. The project not only enriched my technical skills but also became a means of personal healing. By channeling my fears and struggles into art, I discovered a pathway to address and overcome my own mental health issues. This endeavour not only empowered me as a multi-talented creator but also helped me find solace and sustainability through creativity and expression. The project became a platform not only for fashion but for personal growth, healing, and the acquisition of a diverse set of skills.

What was the inspiration starting point for your project?

The genesis of my project stemmed from a deeply personal and long-standing struggle with hallucinations and sleep paralysis that I have faced since a young age. These experiences were not just distressing but often bewildering, as they were outside the realm of understanding for most people. The surreal nature of these encounters made it challenging for others to comprehend, leading to a sense of isolation. Wanting to shed light on these experiences and the mental health challenges that come with them, I sought to channel these struggles into an artistic endeavour. Creating this collection became a form of catharsis for me, a way to translate my intimate and often inexplicable experiences into tangible art. It was an opportunity to share my story, bringing to light the existence of others who may similarly grapple with these experiences. By intertwining my personal journey with the fabric of my creations, the project became a vehicle not only for personal healing but also for raising awareness and fostering understanding about these rarely discussed mental health issues.

What were some challenges that you faced in your project, and how did you overcome them?

During this project, I faced a lot of tough challenges. The biggest one was that I couldn't get any sponsors or financial support, so I had to pay for everything myself. From making the clothes to handling all the work alone, it was a real struggle. Trying to balance this with my job and personal life was really tough too. I had to work really hard to manage my time well. Even though things were really difficult and it seemed like everything might fall apart, I didn't give up. I'd been working towards showcasing my collection at Dubai Fashion Week for 3 1/2 years. I couldn't go there in person due to financial issues, but I'm proud that I managed everything on my own and achieved what I deserved after putting in so much effort. It was a tough journey, almost like a one-person show, but in the end, it showed me how strong and resilient I can be. I feel really proud that I managed to overcome all those obstacles. It's a proof that hard work and not giving up pays off.