Colombo is fast becoming a modern metropolis in every sense of the word. With global brands looking at this little island nation as a more than viable option to introduce their wares, the Sri Lankan consumer is also fast becoming more and more discerning. Competing with these global giants are many local start-ups from IT companies, to home-bakers, and healthy meals to fashion brands. What is noteworthy is the success of some of these homegrown ventures like the latest clothing store to enter a highly competitive market in Colombo “be beautiful”.
The dynamic woman behind this phenomenal brand that is quite literally changing Colombo’s fashion sense is Bhanuki Pathirana Peiris. A former student of Visakha Vidyalaya and Colombo International School, Bhanuki then moved to Nottingham University for Undergrad in Management Studies. Hailing from a family of entrepreneurs in the clothing and garment industry Bhanuki truly has it in her blood to succeed in her chosen trade.
After having completed her studies, Bhanuki began work as and HR adviser in London but always wanted to do something different. After 6 years in HR the entrepreneur bug finally kicked in so she began to explore some ideas that she randomly had. Having a family in the garment industry Bhanuki’s first idea was to see what she could bring from Sri Lanka and sell in the UK.
Starting off at markets and stalls in London, Bhanuki’s first products were kids clothing and pottery which was readily available in Colombo.
“One day I went to the Pottery Cafe in (I’m a big fan of Susie Watson designs) Southwest London and did a pottery class. I painted a design on a plate and named it be beautiful. This is how the name came up”, Bhanuki explains when asked about her inspiration for naming the store.
As the British still love to dress their children in traditional looking outfits, Bhanuki started getting smocked clothing done in Sri Lanka and sold them at stalls in London. However after a year or so she made the best decision of moving back to Sri Lanka in 2013. Having moved back, she soon realized the serious lack of “good” clothes available in Colombo. “The hardest part for me was to find the correct size that would fit. Quality was the other aspect that most clothing stores lacked”, Bhanuki confesses. This was when the self-proclaimed shopaholic decided to take matters in to her own hands.
Having never worked in a Sri Lankan corporate environment, Bhanuki decided to use her family’s knowledge and expertise in business to set up her own clothing store. The “be beautiful” collection features not only clothes that are stitched in Sri Lanka but also hand-picked items from abroad. “It really helped me that my sister has a well-established factory in Sri Lanka. This helped me immensely as I was able to spend time at her factory getting my blocks and quality right. I go to the factory few days a week and check on the production and design side of things. This is what I love the most about my job, creating something beautiful that people will enjoy and appreciate.”
Creative and passionate by nature, Bhanuki found her perfect match in her husband Navin. The strength behind her success Navin has great advice for all budding young entrepreneurs. “Find your passion, make it your obsession and you will never have to work a day in your life”, is the ethos this young couple practices in both their chosen fields of work.
Inspired by the likes of styles worn by Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama Bhanuki believes in dressing to suit her body shape. At 5″8″ she is what one would call more athletic than curvy. For going out Bhanuki chooses feminine cuts in dresses that are simple yet chic. Not too fond of jewellery her accessories are most often a simple pair of earrings and a nice clutch bag.
Reflecting her own style, the collection at “be beautiful” is both chic and elegant. They specialize in unique evening and casual dresse which are both different and classy. The store also does not stock more than two or three pieces ensuring that customers can create their own unique identity and style. Another plus point is that they cater for every age group and body size.
“We want to make all women feel beautiful. So we work hard to ensure we have all sizes available in store, in designs that suit different body shapes. We focus on quality so customers come back. We now have customers who come back every week. And I really enjoy chatting with them and finding their needs in terms of fashion. We do free alterations and in some cases if possible also do sizes to fit our loyal customers. I work hard to ensure that we cover all bases in the store, whether it is teenage party dresses or sophisticated office wear. We recently added long evening dresses and work trousers. We are constantly growing and learning so much as we grow.”
Bhanujki and Navin opened “be beautiful” at their home converting their garage in to the store. With very little advertising the store has really taken off for the couple. Their future plans include ensuring the first store run smoothly, widening their customer base, catering to individual customer needs, traveling abroad to bring down new trends and also designing locally to suit customer needs. They also have plans to open another larger store in a more commercial area.