Arosha Rosenberger is a Sri Lankan-born ethical fashion designer based in Germany. In this interview with Women Talk, Arosha talks about her journey into fashion designing, how her fashion label Tuschimo was born out of her love for nature, her international exhibitions, and her latest collaboration in Sri Lanka with Sthri by Selyn.
You say fashion was something that you were inspired to do as far back as your childhood and your main inspiration was your mother, who herself was a seamstress. Could you tell us how you developed a love for fashion designing?
I saw what my mother was doing and she was very creative. My grandmother was also very much into knitting and creative work. My cradle into the fashion industry is my mother. As a child, even from the age of nine or ten, I always wanted to design something for myself. I gave the fabrics to my mother and designed my own pieces. In school, I made pencil cases, tote bags, and soft toys. My uncles and aunts used to buy from me to motivate me. I always wanted something special.
You go on to study fashion designing in London. Could you elaborate on your background in studying fashion?
I always liked the nature, in particular, because I was born in the mountains in Gampola. For my Advanced Level, I studied bio science. However, from biology, I completely switched over to the creative side, and my inspiration was nature.
I started with getting involved in the clothing industry in Sri Lanka. I got trained in pattern designing and also I did a clothing production diploma. First, I started working at Tri Star Apparel, as a trainee. And then I joined Unichela garments. They were agents for Victoria’s Secret and I started as a pattern maker there. There I learnt a lot.
I moved to London for further education and to improve my design skills. There I did my fashion designing diploma and I achieved a lot of experience. I was also working with Raishma London. That was a couture bridal and evening dresses brand. There again I gained a lot of experience, as a design assistant. I also got exposure into working with customers and running a business.
How did you go on to launch your own fashion label Tuschimo in Munich?
After London, I moved to Germany. I have two kids and my family there. I began fashion designing on my own to be with my family and kids. It was also one of my dreams. My two children gave me the inspiration to do something on my own because it was more flexible for me. So, I began Tuschimo.
What does it mean by Tuschimo?
My second name is Thushari. So, my nickname is Tuschi. Mo in Tuschimo is actually from Mowgli in the Jungle Book. I am a frog collector (not the live ones!). I started collecting figures of frogs as a hobby. Now, I have more than a hundred frogs. Mowgli from the Jungle Book means frog, from which comes the Mo in Tuschimo. That is why the logo of the company is a frog. That represents my love for nature and my hobby as a frog collector.
You say that the inspiration for your clothing designs starts with the Liana trees of Sri Lanka. Could you elaborate on the collections under Tuschimo and what inspire you to create these?
I was always inspired by this tree as well as the nuga tree with all these hanging vines and branches. I was awed by the size of the tree. The roots emphasise my start and the base of it. The crown is like being established with the label Tuschimo. Also, I see it as long life. It is a stable tree so there is shade and security.
If you could touch base on some of the collections that had been produced under Tuschimo?
I have done different collections. The collection Shadow Play is made of linen jersey. I get the fabric from Italy and different suppliers. Shadow Play is a cream, black, and white theme. It has black bands coming up. The inspiration came from being in Germany. In Germany, you have all the leaves falling down in the autumn and I was inspired by how the branches were twisted and turned. So, I tried to put this image on the Shadow Play. If you see the collection, you can see branches going up in beige and black; just the image of how the branches move around.
The collection Magical Spirits have a fabric with birds and butterflies. So, it is very much related to nature. This collection feels vibrant, more like the spring and summer. It is a cheerful collection. The collection Mystique Woods is created from a recycled hand-printed fabric.
Could you elaborate on your recent collaborative work for Sthri by Selyn, a well-known ethical fashion brand in Sri Lanka?
I am an ethical fashion designer. With my collection for Sthri by Selyn, I always considered being ethical. The fabric I use is all certified and comply with global recycle standards. This fabric is made with plastic bottles so it reduces the environmental pollution. Nevertheless, I was doing all those things. I always wanted to create a collection with Sri Lanka. I was doing research and looking for collaborations with organisations in Sri Lanka and I found Selyn. Since then, I have very much looked forward to going ahead with the collection.
With the Sthri by Selyn collection, I was keeping the Sri Lankan woman in mind. One of the objectives is to promote exports as well. So, I wanted to take the Sri Lankan touch to those who are outside the country. Selyn wanted something different so I am doing versatile pieces for them. You can always combine these pieces with something else. It is also something that you can wear during the day, as well as for the evening. The current collection will have colours coming up that you can match with what you have already brought. I also use a lot of asymmetric styles to give a little bit of playfulness. I also keep in mind, at the end of the day, it should be a piece of clothing that the real woman can wear. So, my collection suits any body.
You are an ethical fashion designer who has exhibited at notable shows, such as the Berlin Fashion Week and Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver, Canada. What does it mean to be an ethical fashion designer?
Ethical fashion means conscious fashion. To be ethical in fashion, covers three aspects; ecological, social, and transparency. It is not fast fashion.
It has been three years since I found my ethical fashion label Tuschimo, in 2014. I think it has evolved and gone far. I have been getting invitations to international fashion shows and I am proud to say that I got invited to participate at the Berlin Fashion Week, from the ethical fashion side. I also took part in the Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver, Canada. There they had a collection of designers and I got great exposure. I have been taking part in Munich, in many fashion shows, such as the Secret Fashion Show. The most recent international fashion show I participated was in Italy. I am happy to be home here in Sri Lanka, encouraging people to be more conscious and ethical about what they buy and to dress up eco-friendly.
This is couture and also high-end international fashion in that you are involved. In that spectrum, when you say you are an ethical designer, where do you position yourself?
It is sad sometimes because when you go on the red carpet it is seen as you need to be glitzy. But my aim with Sthri by Selyn is to bring fair trade and ethical fashion on to maybe not the red carpet but the ‘green’ carpet. Even with ethical fashion, you can dress elegantly. So, my aim is to design fashion that is elegant and sophisticated while still keeping it ethical.
When you design, that means you are also an artist. You work with colours, concepts, and ideas. How does your mind work and how do you set to work as a designer?
I love to go walk in the woods. I always get inspired by how a mushroom comes out or how do the trees, branches, and barks look like. I always try to combine colours in my designs to make them look more like the nature. I had one collection called Arrowroots, and to show the movements with the branches I used bands. I try to transform nature into fashion.
Any future plans in terms of fashion and Tuschimo?
In future, my intention is to make people aware of dressing up more consciously and contribute to making the world a better place, free from pollution. What I would also like to do in Sri Lanka is to continue to work with Selyn because being an empowered woman I would like to support, join hands, and network to empower more women.
Date of Interview: 15 November 2017
Interviewer and photos: Shashini Ruwanthi Gamage