Viocean Fernando - All for the love of culture!
The Ceylonese Smoking Culture – a lifestyle brand that caters to both the smoker and non-smoker.
Viocean Fernando’s love for brands has led him to develop an array of brands during his lifetime, most of them dedicated to tourism. However, one brand that is quite close to his heart is The Ceylonese Smoking Culture – a lifestyle brand that caters to both the smoker and non-smoker. After a quirky chat with him at the Uyana Record Bar in Colombo, we were able to discover more about his most beloved brand.
With a brand as unique as this, there must be quite a colorful story behind it, please tell us more.
It all started at the Uyana Record Bar in Colombo. The year was 2003 and a good friend of mine was given a Zippo lighter. We were told that it was impossible to break; so, we did everything possible to try and break it. Eventually, the hinge gave way. While looking for a place to get it repaired, we stumbled upon the Uyana Record Bar. When we first walked in through those iconic doors, we were amazed to see the collection of music that the owner had in the store. Packed with all sorts of collectibles dating back to the 40’s, we were told about the stories behind each piece. This was when I first learned that smoking had a strong culture associated with it.
Tell us what the brand embodies
After completing my studies, I wanted to establish my own brand. The first thing that came to my mind was The Ceylonese Smoking Culture or TCSC. Because Sri Lanka has a culture of smoking that goes back for centuries, I wanted to portray this vision of mine. To do this, I collaborated with artists, musicians and innovators to produce accessories that are in line with international standards so that I could present a gift to the arena of smoking from Sri Lanka.
What was the first challenge that you had to face?
The very first challenge I had was to reason with my parents, as this is a taboo topic. It took some time to explain it to them, but I was able to do so.
You have been known to be an advocate for the health of smokers, how have you achieved this?
Tobacco companies will sell their product without hesitation to anyone who wants to smoke, but the disappointment lies in the fact that not one of these giant corporations wants to take care of the health of a smoker. In some parts of Sri Lanka, people roll their own cigarettes using newspaper, this of course is extremely unhealthy. The rolling paper that I produce is unbleached and free of chemicals. At the end of the day, people who want to smoke will continue to smoke. So why not give them a healthier way to do so?
Can you comment on your distribution?
My main focus in Sri Lanka is to cater to the tourist market. A foreigner would see this and appreciate it as the brand stands for so much more than just smoking. Thus, my products are placed in locations populated by tourists. Another reason for this is that in terms of market share, mine is quite low. Strategically positioning my products in areas where tourists hangout will further my reach as they are happy to take my products home as gifts for their family and friends.
Have you expanded internationally?
My first international client was a distributor in the Maldives. Following this, I received many inquiries from Germany, India, Canada and the US. I began by sending a few samples across and eventually started establishing myself. However, it is a process that takes time as my international competition is huge.
What is next for TCSC?
We are working on some exciting initiatives. From creating active charcoal-based filter tips using our coconut shells to working on environmental projects that include the collection of cigarette butts for recycling purposes, continuous research is involved. We are also working with a genetics expert in the US with the goal of launching a strain. Additionally, I am also working on a publication that will highlight the history and culture associated with smoking from a sociological angle.
Being a young entrepreneur, what would you say to the rest of Sri Lanka’s young entrepreneurs?
There are no fairytale stories of glitz and glamour where one can get rich quick. When you go down the path of entrepreneurship, start with a strong mentality so that you will be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Something else that is overlooked is to reinvest even the smallest amounts of money that you may make. Finally, fall in love with your brand every single day and be open to collaboration. Collaborate, but never compete.