Issue 33 / Sri Lanka's KOCA By RN Is The Next Gen Designer To Watch

Sri Lanka’s KOCA By RN Is The Next Gen Designer To Watch

Jan 17, 2016


Sri Lankan sisters Najila Sharhan and Rusla Namiq are all styled to rule the South Asian runway.

KOCA by RN is quickly becoming a fashion label to watch out for in South Asian couture. Sri Lankan sisters Najila Sharhan and Rusla Namiq are behind the brand formerly known as CONFIDENCE. “It all started out as a hobby in 2009,” says Sharhan. “I had left my job as a lingerie designer at Timex and Fergsam Garment Industries in Sri Lanka and moved to Singapore.”

Najila Sharhan (right) and Rusla Namiq (left) and a model (middle) wearing a Parisian-inspired couture piece silk chiffon.

Photo Credit: Dylan Seedin Photography  

The work had involved design costing, merchandising and marketing; Sharhan liaised with the design teams from the buyers’ end to execute the precise design details and created new collections for a variety of markets. “The exposure of the business side of fashion was really an enlightening experience.” In Singapore, Sharhan started her own line with both Namiq and a friend. All three were educated in fashion design: Sharhan studied at LIFT (Lanka Institute of Fashion Technology) in Sri Lanka and her sister studied at the JD Institute of Fashion Technology, which is actually LIFT now. 

“We started selling capsule collections at my cousin’s cafe in Galle Fort and the designs were received well by the ex-pats and travellers.” In 2012, they approached Colombo Fashion Week and with the help and advice of Ajal Vir Singh (the founder of CFW) who became a great mentor, they relaunched their brand as KOCA by RN. KOCA is derived from the Sinhala name for cuckoo bird in Sri Lanka and is symbolic of the new year and a time of celebration; RN stands for the initials of the sisters’ first names. The playful name KOCA came from Sharhan’s niece who said it on a lark and it happened to stick since the cuckoo bird is so rooted in both nature and Sri Lanka’s culture.



Colombo Fashion Week, KOCA by RN, Resort 2016 Collection
Photo Credit: Prishan Pandithage Photography
 


Colombo Fashion Week, KOCA by RN, Resort 2016 Collection
Photo Credit: Prishan Pandithage Photography 


Colombo Fashion Week, KOCA by RN, Resort 2016 Collection
Photo Credit: Prishan Pandithage Photography 


Colombo Fashion Week, KOCA by RN, Resort 2016 Collection
Photo Credit: Prishan Pandithage Photography 

Colombo Fashion Week, KOCA by RN, Resort 2016 Collection
Photo Credit: Prishan Pandithage Photography 

 

Culture is also a strong influence on KOCA by RN’s aesthetic and design approach. “My sister and I come from a rather conservative background so in creating our collections we try to think of how we can wear our clothes to maintain the culture but not be typical,” explains Sharhan. Fortunately, a conservative culture and family background did not stand in the sisters’ way.

On the contrary, the support and encouragement has made them take chances in life which, in turn, has translated to the runway. “On our models we like to do bold shock statements on the runway for a surprise effect,” says Sharhan. Their design approach is to use modern technological applications in their looks. This could be a special appliqué, an embroidery or a print that inspires them. Sharhan cites Roberto Cavalli, Oscar de la Renta, Altuzarra & BCBG as some of her favourite designers. They have a minimalist, effortless chic design approach, even in their evening wear. “We like to keep it simple, yet unique. We pay very close attention to the fabric’s feel and look, and all of the detailing that goes with it, so the silhouettes are interestingly cut," she says.

"Minimalist yet innovative is key in our design concept. Developing a design style takes research and hard work," says Sharhan. “Going trend shopping for us is a must. We travel so are generally inspired by our experiences. We’re also in touch with what’s going on in fashion around the world and we aim for versatility, diversity and ultimately our design DNA.” The designs are breathtaking to say the least — modern, sultry and understated with strategic flashes of ruffle, lace, embroidery or embellishment.


KOCA by RN, Spring/Summer 2015 Collection
Photo Credit: Jehan Seedin Photography 


KOCA by RN, Spring/Summer 2015 Collection
Photo Credit: Jehan Seedin Photography 


KOCA by RN, Spring/Summer 2015 and Resort Collection
Photo Credit: Jehan Seedin Photography and Dhanush De Costa Photography

KOCA by RN, Resort Collection
Photo Credit: Dhanush De Costa Photography 

 

The sisters do sometimes clash on design, style and business. “We wouldn’t be sisters if we didn’t!” laughs Sharhan. “But we find a way to make it work. Our design style is different and we rate each other’s looks and then fine tune. It’s a system that works for us.” They love both ready-to-wear and couture but “I’m more casual chic as opposed to my sister who is more elaborate,” she says. 
 
Some of the changes the designers would like to see in Sri Lanka, Asia and the rest of the world is access and appreciation. “We strongly believe that Asia and the world should actually start taking notice of the abundant talent available in this region. When you’re in the West, it’s that much easier to get into the field and excel, but we as Asians should give prominence to our Asian talent pool. Why not start buying more from Asian designers?” says Sharhan.
 


Colombo VIP Night, Fashion Designer Showcase Showstopper Event, KOCA by RN
Photo Credit: Dylan Seedin Photography 

 

The sisters hope to take the brand international as well as get into e-commerce. They have four locations in Sri Lanka and have done capsule collections for Dubai, Singapore and Australia. “Now it’s time to target department stores overseas and sell,” says Sharhan. Because they’re still an up-and-coming fashion label, “a lot of the time we need to be very hands on with every single aspect from design concept to execution to marketing and selling," she says. “It’s a lot of hard work that goes into putting a collection together and it comes with many challenges.” But that certainly doesn’t stop them. “We simply forge ahead anyway.”

Main Image Credit: Dylan Seedin Photography 

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Author

Wendy Kaur is a fashion, beauty and lifestyle writer and journalist who specializes on covering luxury brands, notable names in historical and high jewellery, and profiles on acclaimed personalities.  Her portfolio includes the Robb Report, FASHION, NUVO, Flaunt,<...

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