Priyantha Subasinghe knows about wools and yarns. He has a keen eye for design, and he also knows about business. Priyantha has learnt well from his father, and is now blazing his own trail with Kalaro, producing gorgeous knitwear with a unique Sri Lankan twist. It all started in 1970, when Priyantha’s father, Mr. Subasinghe, started a small business at home to knit winter wear. He was discovered by Dale of Norway, which dramatically changed his fortunes for the better. They were impressed by Mr. Subasinghe’s work and agreed to make him a supplier from Sri Lanka, and started a joint venture with him. The business excelled as Dale of Norway sent the best wools and yarns while also providing the designs. Five knitters, sitting in a small room, bringing to life designs sent to them all the way from Norway – those were the humble beginnings. Priyantha grew up surrounded by knitters, and eventually took over the family business after his father passed away. In the early 90’s Dale of Norway withdrew from the joint venture and Priyantha struggled to keep things moving. Luckily he found buyers from Norway who knew of his products and their quality. Today Kalaro has 15 knitting centres in Sri Lanka, and provides employment for more than one hundred rural women. Kalaro – Priyantha says it means ‘nurturing arts’ – boasts of a collection of designs using Sri Lankan motifs and icons inspired by a variety of sources ranging from Sigiriya to tropical beaches. They are not mass produced – each design is reproduced only a few times, and comes with a story behind it. And they come with the added benefit of supporting many poor families. Kalaro has knitting centres in very remote areas where most families can barely afford a meal per day. Many of them engage in fishing or chena cultivation. Kalaro has empowered women – many who are illiterate – to become the breadwinners for their families. They are highly skilled too, capable of knitting an entire sweater in just one week. Priyantha has big plans for Kalaro, but like most small business owners faces many obstacles. He wishes to expand his business, currently focused on Scandinavian markets, to other parts of the world, including Sri Lanka itself. Colomboard will be a platform for him to take that next step.
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