My name is Thushari Siriwardhane Aniban and I am the owner of aliyablue.com; an online store promoting handcrafted, eco-friendly, sustainable products made exclusively in Sri Lanka.
Aliya Blue was founded with the purpose of providing a platform for the various artisans in Sri Lanka to showcase their unique products and skills to the world. It is an avenue for them to support, not just themselves and their families, but also their communities.
The inspiration came to me during my recent visit to Sri Lanka. As I was walking through the local marketplace in Anuradhapura. I noticed a woven bag hanging on a small vendor’s roof and fell in love with it. It reminded me of the “malla” my grandmother used to carry to the market when she did her weekly groceries. To me it was so beautiful and represented a simpler time when there were no plastic bags, and everyone used to carry a version of this bag to the market. As a nod to my grandmother, I thought why not start taking a ‘malla’ to the supermarket and leave the plastic bags at the store. It was the perfect solution – eco-friendly and uniquely stylish.
From this initial thought, came the framework for Aliya Blue. Why not spread the message beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. With all the talk of what we are doing to our planet, these sustainable bags seemed another solution to mitigate the prevalence of plastic in our daily lives. These bags are re-usable and made from several natural materials such as reeds and Palmyra leaves growing in abundance in Sri Lanka.
This chance meeting in Anuradhapura led me through an intricate path, this is Sri Lanka after all, to a wonderful lady in Ape Gama in Kotte. She was so thrilled with my idea that she set me on course to meet several vendors throughout Sri Lanka. I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of artisans that made various types of bags using several natural materials that were growing in abundance around them, particularly in the rice fields. Majority of my vendors turned out to be women and it was inspiring to see them supporting their families singlehandedly, and the communities around them by employing other women. I also met a teacher in Kataragama, who traveled over one hour by bus to rural villages to teach women how to make these products. He gets a small stipend from the government for his teaching, but he mostly does it out of his passion for creating these unique bags and passing on his skills.
Through these travels not only was I able to meet artisans making bags but I also met several other craftspeople utilizing a variety of natural materials such as coconut shells and clay to make an astonishing variety of products. These products ranging from jewelry to household goods showcased the versatility of these materials as well as the amazing imagination of these artists. So, my store expanded.
I started talking to the vendors about their products and how business was going, and I kept hearing the same story. Business was bad, there were no tourists or locals traveling, and they were struggling to survive. This was after the tragic Easter Sunday terrorist attacks that took place in the island April (2019) and now the coronavirus. These artisans were creating beautiful products yet there was no real exposure for their talents. I had always wanted to give back to and help the less fortunate communities inSri Lanka, and this seemed like the perfect place to start. Not charity but a way to empower the craftspeople and their communities.
As such, we deal directly with the people who design & hand craft these products. Therefore, the monies paid go directly to the hands of these artisans. It was especially important for me and my company, that we support these entrepreneurs directly rather than purchasing goods from a third party.
I cannot emphasis enough that all the products you see on the website are handmade which means each piece is unique and there will never be a hundred pieces of one item. We buy what the artisan community produce. When you purchase an item from us, you can be rest assured you will be a proud owner of an item that is well made and in very limited production.
I am honored to say what started out as a simple idea of introducing Eco-friendly bags made in Sri Lanka to the US, turned into a showcase for Sri Lanka’s unique handcrafts. Thus, Aliya Blue was born.
Please visit us at aliyablue.com and follow on IG & FB @aliyablueworld