From IT to Apparel Design: The story of Dilly Rajapakshe
Dilly Rajapakshe decided to leave a budding career in IT to follow her passion in apparel design. She takes us through her challenges as an entrepreneur in a new world and answers the age-old question of “isn’t it too late to start now?”
Although Dilly Rajapakshe was destined to be one of Sri Lanka’s most sought after fashion designers, her journey towards her entrepreneurial destiny only began almost five  years ago when she decided to quit her career in IT and dive headfirst into her passion for creative, apparel design.
Dilly admits to wanting to be a career-driven woman but had failed to find her passion in the corporate IT sector. “I was working for an international IT organisation and there was a reluctance to give my 100% because my heart was somewhere else”. She believed she was qualified in the career she had originally settled into, but that she did not love it. “I remember being mentally exhausted coming back from work, whereas I looked forward to and was rejuvenated with the idea of coming home to paint with my mother-in-law.”
When her husband advised her to quit and follow her passions, Dilly simply asked: “isn’t’ it too late?”. The short answer: It never is.
Making the decision to switch careers midway through her corporate growth, resulted in being met with questions and fears from well-wishers and loved ones where people couldn’t fathom why she would leave “a highly respected field such as IT”.
“People didn’t know the difference between a designer and dressmaker. But what I was envisioning was so big that none of those questions mattered to me,” Dilly admits “but it was challenging having to deal with this day in and day out at the beginning.”
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Shortly after her decision to become an entrepreneur, Dilly was given the opportunity to represent Sri Lanka at the Asian-European Fashion Show in Paris 2017, supported only by her family, in particular her mother and mother-in-law, under the brand name Grazia Desiderio. With fears about her lack of experience, her capacity to design and even certain failure, the first time designer’s collection of 13 pieces were selected as the event’s show stopper. This significant moment at the start of Dilly’s entrepreneurial journey, not only elevated Sri Lanka’s fashion couture industry to a global level but also solidified Dilly’s belief in her decision to pursue apparel design as an entrepreneur.
Thus birthed her fashion couture brand – Mannat Armaan – a high-end designer wedding wear label, that holds above all else, to provide satisfactory customer experiences, throughout the process; continually innovating and creating unique, one of a kind pieces; whilst ensuring quality wear. Dilly believes that Mannat Armaan provides the perfect balance of providing original, trend-setting, quality products.
Although Dilly had entered the apparel design industry with a global bang, her challenges were far from over, commenting the elite designer said “the clothing/ apparel industry was a challenging one from day dot. I walked in as an outsider. I had the corporate experience and the passion to succeed, but this was a new world to me.”
“I sometimes wondered whether if I had started sooner or maybe had an educational background in design, where I would be today. But I don’t regret anything, because the corporate experience I received has contributed largely to my success. I think the person I have become is what has led me to manage and create differently,” she admits.
The greatest challenge that Dilly continues to face is recruitment for the Mannat Armaan brand. “I wanted people who were experienced in the apparel industry, but their attitude wasn’t right. I was coming from a corporate sector, I was used to teamwork and a flat structure where a large hierarchy wasn’t what I had envisioned.” Dilly envisioned working with a team that she could innovate with and although she has found the core members of her team, she admits that expanding further has continued to be a challenge.
Mannat Armaan has become a brand known for its intricate, one-of-a-kind design work, wherefrom conceptualisation to design and execution, the finer details of each garment becomes the essence of its beauty and perfection. “I believe each of our products are a masterpiece.”
The brand has continued to garner a growing loyal customer base for its exquisite designs and precision production and has even been at the centre of copy-cat designs and replicas. “It was hard to wrap my head around the replicas initially, since what we created as unique products, soon became commonplace. But now I realise that imitation is the strongest form of flattery and this means we’re inspiring a larger audience and budding designers. This also inspires us to innovate more, in fact.”
When asked about her vision for the future, Dilly looks forward to enabling the business operations to run independently, and for her to take a step back and focus on the creative work and overall strategy, whilst also working to provide augmented reality for clothing fit-ons and trials.
When imparting advice to The Entrepreneur’s online audience, Dilly believes that for any career to succeed, you need to do what you love “because that’s the only thing that will make you stay and prevent you from giving up. Don’t get into it because you think it’s cool to be your own boss.
Concluding, she noted “Value leads and the money follows. Invest back what you earn. Build your reserves for a rainy day – this is something both my father and father-in-law has always said.”