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Brewing a different cup of coffee

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One of the top ten Arabica varieties of  coffee in the world, our own Lak Parakum is now being promoted by the Department of Export Agriculture in all Arabica coffee-growing districts in the island. Plants of this variety are distributed among growers through several coffee nurseries in the upcountry. The coffee rust which ended the  island’s coffee romance in British-occupied then  Ceylon is given hope for resurgence with the promotion of the new  variety.

BY RANDIMA ATTYGALLE

History has it that coffee was introduced to Ceylon in 1503 by the Arab traders from Yemen. However, the planting of coffee as a commercial crop in the island commenced with the Dutch occupancy and continued under the British rule. Planter R.B Butler who had experience in coffee plantations in Jamaica came here in 1837 and introduced methods to yield a better coffee crop. By 1863, the value of coffee imported into Europe from all parts of the world amounted to £270 million, and we were exporting nearly a third of that. By 1870, Sri Lanka’s coffee production peaked with over 275,000 hectares being cultivated, according to the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB) data.

The colonial Ceylon was among the top coffee producing and exporting nations and a coffee-drinking culture complete with kopi kaday (coffee kiosks) and kopi kele (coffee forests) evolved. Christine Spittel-Wilson’s famous book The Bitter Berry revolves around the ethos of a Ceylonese coffee plantation.

Sadly, the coffee rust of 1870 (caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix) destroyed all plantations bringing the coffee romance of the country to an end. Although rust-tolerant varieties were later introduced, today coffee is an intercrop with tea and coconut. However, Lak Parakum promoted by the Department of Export Agriculture (DEA), encourages planters to expand their coffee acreage.

Sri Lanka’s coffee cultivation covers around 4,600 hectares and the two main commercially important species locally grown are Arabica coffee (Coffea Arabica) and Robusta Coffee (Coffea canephora). These two main species grown here include several varieties. “While Arabica coffee varieties are recommended for mid and up country areas with an altitude of over 400m (Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Matale and Badulla), Robusta variety is recommended for mid and low country with an altitude of less than 800m( Kegalle, Kurunegala, Kandy and Matale). These

recommendations are made depending on the temperature variation. While Arabica prefers a temperature of 15-28ºC, Robusta thrives in a temperature of 18-36ºC” says Dr. H.M.P.A Subasinghe, Director (Research), Department of Export Agriculture (DEA).

The global specialty coffee market as the EDB notes, is projected to reach over USD 80 billion by 2025 which offers enormous growth potential for coffee producers. In line with this increasing demand, Sri Lanka’s coffee exports have increased in recent years, growing 84 percent from 2017 to reach nearly USD 355,000 by 2019 according to EDB data. The coffee industry as the EDB notes, has attracted increased investment from the private sector and increased local demand and consumption of locally grown coffee in hotels, restaurants and cafes.

More than 80% the world demand is for Arabica coffee and the requirement is 8.8 million mt, says Dr. Subasinghe. Lak Parakum with its quality parameters stands among the best ten Arabica varieties in the world, he adds.

Even after releasing the new variety Lak Parakum, it did not become popular among farmers due to lower prices offered for coffee. But the Director (Research) of the DEA then, Dr. J.M.Seneviratne initiated collaborations with the authorities at the Nuwara Eliya District Secretariat to popularize the new variety among growers in the Nuwara Eliya District. He also worked with Mr. Kenneth McAlpine, a member of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) for the global coffee industry to find the quality parameters of Lak Parakum and found that overall score was 85.5 which is way above the cutoff point for the best coffees which is considered to be 75.”

While Lak Parakum is promoted for higher elevations, IMY which is of Robusta variety is also promoted for lower elevations right now. While the domestic coffee consumption is 2,300 mt. our annual production was 2,345 mt. in 2020 according to DEA’s statistics. Our annual export volume was 26.6 mt in 2020. Australia, UAE, USA, Maldives, New Zealand, Chile, UK and Germany are the major buyers of Sri Lankan coffee. The annual coffee import volume was 104.9 mt in 2020.

“Due to immature coffee harvesting and bad processing practices, most importing countries are rejecting our coffee and with the new variety if we can practice timely harvesting and good processing practices, the export potential is very high,” observes Dr. Subasinghe.

Several new measures are now in place to tap a lucrative market for Sri Lankan coffee. Production of planting material with private sector nurseries, awareness programmes for harvesting and processing practices for high quality products, promotion for value addition, introduction of GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) Certification to get premium prices and increasing the coffee extent from 4,600 ha to 5,800 ha and the export volume from 30 mt. to 200 mt by 2025 are among these. Collaborations with the Australian government-funded Market Development Facility for the improvement of the coffee industry are also in place.

Although threats from rust diseases are still prevalent in coffee fields, they can be controlled with good management practices and available control measures, points out Dr. Subasinghe. “Apart from the rust disease, the major pest problem is the coffee berry borer damage. This too can be managed with good crop management practices. While Robusta varieties are highly tolerant for rust, Arabica is medium tolerant.”

Due to the low prices offered for coffee (Rs. 350 to 400 per kilo), many growers had neglected coffee in the last few years, however, currently a kilo of coffee could get Rs. 1,200. “We also offer coffee growers incentives including free planting material, technological assistance for planting, crop management, harvesting, fertilizer application, processing and management of pest and diseases. Subsidies for irrigation facilities and machinery used for post-harvest practices and support for GAP are also offered.”

Managing Director of Kelaneiya & Braemar Estate Maskeliya, Murugiah Balendran, a leading grower of Lak Parakum first experimented with it in 2014. Director (Research) of the DEA then, Dr. J.M.Seneviratne who collected a gene pool from old plants from many areas including Walapane, Ramboda, Galaha and Nilambe offered me mother plants of Lak Parakum and encouraged me to experiment with them,” reflects Balendran who goes onto add that the ‘trial and error’ exercise eventually turned out to be successful. His own estate which was once an exclusive coffee plantation still has coffee trees more than 100 years old.

The senior planter who is now well versed in producing seed stock of Lak Parakum has released about 1,500 kg to nurseries since 2018. “Each kilo of seed could produce 2,000 to 3,000 plants, so a sizeable amount of plants have been generated todate.” Balendran has dedicated four hectares of land to coffee alone today and urge fellow coffee growers to move away from the ‘intercrop mindset’ and allocate more fertile land for the crop. “Many growers plant coffee in vacant land space where largely tea had been removed. However, unless the soil quality is improved, planting coffee in vacant tea and coconut estates won’t do.”

Balendran who also grows several other varieties of coffee including a few Indian ones remarks that there is a notable difference between those and Lak Parakum in terms of the yield, resistance to disease and the texture of beans. “However it will take us another four to five years to show the true potential of it.”

Lack of fertilizer has taken a notable toll on the crop, laments the planter. “At the time of blooming and berries start setting, we need to give some fertilizer. But unfortunately last year our crop was very poor and didn’t match our expectations. Even the seed delivery to DEA and other agents got curtailed to a large extent. Moreover, although I have been supplying coffee seed material from 2018, I have so far not received any significant assistance from any government agency,” remarks Balendran who moots an effective result-oriented incentive scheme for coffee growers.

Photo credit: Murugiah
Balendran, Royal Commonwealth
Society, W.L.H. Skeen & Co.



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Foreign News

The marathon Indian wedding turning heads around the world

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After months of festivities, the Ambani wedding is finally coming to an end [BBC]

How much is too much?

That’s the question many in India are asking as the months-long wedding festivities for the youngest son of Asia’s richest man enter their final phase.

The celebrations are expected to culminate this weekend when Anant Ambani, the youngest son of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, ties the knot with Radhika Merchant, daughter of pharma tycoons Viren and Shaila Merchant.

There have been four months of lavish events leading up to the wedding itself. All the glamourous outfits, stunning jewellery, fairytale-like decor and rare performances by Indian and global stars have been the focus of much public attention.

“It is nothing short of a royal wedding,” says writer and columnist Shobhaa De. “Our billionaires are the new Indian maharajahs. Their shareholders expect nothing less than a mega extravaganza.”

Indians “have always loved pomp and pageantry – just like the British”, she says, adding that “the scale [of the wedding] is in keeping with the Ambani wealth”.

But the hullabaloo around the wedding has drawn as much ire as public fascination. Many have criticised the opulence and the sheer magnitude of wealth on display in a country where tens of millions live below the poverty line and where income equality is extreme.

The wedding can easily be seen as a kind of a mockery, a sort of blindness to the reality of the country at one level. At another level, however ridiculous this might be, it is still in keeping with the grossly distorted, almost grotesque bloating of Indian weddings in the last decade or so,” writer and commentator Santosh Desai tells the BBC.

“It is part of a larger shift that is taking place. A generation or two ago, wealth was spoken of in whispers. Today, wealth must speak as loudly as possible. Even then, the scale of this wedding makes it an outlier.”

Getty Images The Ambani house in Mumbai
The main wedding is set to take place at the family residence in Mumbai [BBC]
EPA Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani (R) and his wife Neeta Ambani gesture during a mass wedding ceremony for underprivileged couples at Reliance Corporate Park, in Navi Mumbai, India, 02 July 2024
Parents Neeta and Mukesh Ambani are leaving no stone unturned to make the celebrations memorable [BBC]

With a sprawling business empire – ranging from oil, telecoms, chemicals, technology and fashion to food – the Ambanis are a ubiquitous presence in India and their lives are the subject of intense public fascination.

Mr Ambani’s personal fortune is estimated at a staggering $115bn (£90bn). Anant, 29, holds a position on the Reliance Industries board of directors.

Ambani senior, along with fellow Indian business tycoon Gautam Adani, is reported to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, with opposition parties accusing the authorities of unduly favouring the two business houses – accusations both the government and the businessmen deny.

While the Ambani family’s enormous wealth and clout are well known in India, many outside the country may not have realised the extent of their riches until now.

That changed in March, when Mr Ambani hosted a three-day pre-wedding party for his son.

Reuters Indian actress Janhvi Kapoor poses on the red carpet during the sangeet ceremony of Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant at Jio World Centre, Mumbai, India, July 5, 2024.
Some of Bollywood’s biggest stars, like Janhvi Kapoor, have attended the pre-wedding events [BBC]
Reuters A band plays drums during the pre-wedding ceremony of Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant outside the residence of Mukesh Ambani, in Mumbai, India, July 3, 2024.
The festivities have included musicians, parties, luxury cruises and several traditional ceremonies [BBC]

The festivities were held in the family’s hometown Jamnagar in the western state of Gujarat, which is also the location of Mr Ambani’s oil refinery – the largest in the world. Some 1,200 guests attended, including Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

The party began with a dinner held inside a glasshouse especially built for the occasion. The stunning structure reportedly resembles Palm House, a crystalline Victorian-style building located in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was a favourite of Ms Merchant when she was a college student in New York City.

The feast was followed by a performance by Rihanna and viral videos showed the Ambani family grooving with the popstar on stage. If people hadn’t been paying attention, they definitely were now.

Reuters Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg poses with Anant Ambani, son of Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman of Reliance Industries, and Radhika Merchant, daughter of industrialist Viren Merchant, during their pre-wedding celebrations in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India, March 2, 2024
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was among the guests at the pre-wedding celebrations in March [BBC]
Reuters Rihanna performs in Jamnagar for the Ambani pre-wedding party
Popstar Rihanna performed for the family in March [BBC]

Through it all, dozens of speciality chefs served some 2,000 dishes, carefully curated from around the world, to guests lodged in luxury tents, with personal makeup artists and stylists at their service.

There was also a 10-page manual on the dress code for the events, which included a “jungle fever” theme for a visit to a family-owned animal sanctuary, followed by a Moulin Rouge-themed “house party” held at the sprawling grounds of their palatial residence.

The bride-to-be wore a number of specially crafted outfits, including two lehngas (long bridal silk skirts) – one studded with 20,000 Swarovski crystals and another that reportedly took 5,700 hours to make – and a pink version of a Versace dress that actor Blake Lively wore to the 2022 Met Gala.

The groom mostly wore Dolce & Gabbana outfits and flaunted a Richard Mille wristwatch, worth an estimated $1.5m. A viral video of Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan gawking at the watch went viral in India.

Newspapers and websites perfectly captured the opulence of these dazzling events, attended by the glitterati from around the world. “It was almost like the time of maharajahs 100 years down the line,” the New York Times reported.

Reuters Akash Ambani and Anant Ambani, sons of Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman of Reliance Industries, pose with Shloka Mehta Ambani, wife of Akash, and Radhika Merchant, daughter of industrialist Viren Merchant, during pre-wedding celebrations of Anant and Radhika in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India, March 2, 2024. Reliance
Akash Ambani and Anant Ambani with Shloka Mehta Ambani, wife of Akash, and bride-to-be Radhika Merchant [BBC]

There was also backlash after India’s government overnight designated the city’s small airport into an international airport, expanded its staff and deployed military and air force personnel in service of the family.

The final night of the three-day jamboree, which ended with a shower of confetti, fireworks and a lightshow, set the tone for what was to come next.

In June, the couple and their guests took their pre-wedding celebrations overseas, literally. The party, which included top Bollywood stars, embarked on a luxury cruise along the stunning azure coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea in Italy, to the French Mediterranean.

They stopped in Rome, Portofino, Genoa and Cannes for late-night revelry that reportedly brought complaints from local people.

This time, the celebrations had performances by 90s teen heartthrobs The Backstreet Boys, singer Katy Perry and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

This week, yet another set of wedding celebrations kicked off on the family’s home turf, Mumbai, with a performance by Justin Bieber.

A video of him singing at the edge of the stage as the bride and her friends sing along has been viewed 38 million times. It shows ecstatic women in sequined gowns and saris as they punch their fists skyward in glee. The crowd doesn’t miss a beat to Bieber’s verse: You should go and love yourself.

Instagram Justin Bieber performing at party for the Ambanis
Justin Bieber’s performance captured attention around the world [BBC]

Reuters Anant Ambani, son of businessman Mukesh Ambani, arrives with his fiance Radhika Merchant on the red carpet during the sangeet ceremony at Jio World Centre, Mumbai, India, July 5, 2024.
Groom and bride have made public appearances throughout the celebrations [BBC]

The scale of the celebrations show that nothing is out of reach for the family. And there is speculation that Adele could be performing at the actual wedding this weekend – the family, however, are tight-lipped.

Of course, India isn’t a stranger to the concept of big fat weddings – the country is the largest spender on marriage ceremonies after the US.

Tina Tharwani, co-founder of the Shaadi Squad, says in recent years, there’s been a noticeable trend where weddings have become larger-than-life events that veer towards excessiveness, driven by societal expectations, competitive displays of status, and a desire to create memorable moments.

So, we’ve seen expensive weddings routinely make headlines in recent years, such as this $74mwedding in 2016.

Other Ambani children have also had lavish pre-wedding festivities. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were among attendees at Isha Ambani’s pre-wedding bash in 2018, which featured a performance by Beyoncé. A year later, Akash Ambani’s pre-wedding bash featured a performance by Coldplay.

Reuters Nita Ambani, wife of Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman of Reliance Industries, shares a moment with Ivanka Trump during pre-wedding celebrations of Ambani's son Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant, daughter of industrialist Viren Merchant, in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India, March 1, 2024
Ivanka Trump (left) met Nita Ambani at the pre-wedding celebrations in March [BBC]
Reuters Actor Shah Rukh Khan, his wife Gauri and their son AbRam pose during the pre-wedding celebrations of Anant Ambani, son of Mukesh Ambani and Radhika Merchant, daughter of industrialist Viren Merchant, in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India
Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan has attended the pre-wedding events [BBC]

When it comes to scale, though, this is the mother of all weddings, says Ashwini Arya, owner of an event management company that has managed weddings in 14 countries.

“It’s like the bible for the industry with the best of logistics, tech, design and grandeur.

“You’re talking about preparations of a minimum of two years, multiple recce trips, approvals and permissions from several countries, along with the logistics of arranging security and transport for some of the biggest personalities of the world,” he says.

EPA Ambani family hosts mass wedding for underprivileged couples in Mumbai, India - 02 Jul 2024
As part of celebrations, the family hosted a mass wedding for underprivileged couples [BBC]

The Ambanis have not revealed how much this wedding is costing them but Mr Arya estimates that they have already spent nywhere between 11bn and 13bn rupees [$132m-$156m]. It was rumoured Rihanna had been paid $7m (£5.5m) for her performance, while the figure suggested for Bieber is $10m.

Money was also lavished on constructing 14 temples inside a sprawling complex in Jamnagar to showcase India’s cultural heritage and provide a backdrop for the wedding. As part of the celebrations, the Ambanis hosted a mass wedding for 50 underprivileged couples too.

It’s being said the family pulled out all the stops because with all the Ambani children married, this would be their last wedding for the foreseeable future.

But with each event, public criticism of the celebration in India has grown – from people aghast at the massive jewels worn by Nita Ambani to exasperation and anger among Mumbai residents over traffic restrictions in a city already struggling with traffic jams and monsoon flooding.

Reuters Decorations seen outside the Ambani residence, Antilia during the pre-wedding ceremony of Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant in Mumbai, India, July 3, 2024.
The celebrations have caused anger and exasperation among Mumbai residents [BBC]
Reuters Actors Salman Khan, Ram Charan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan perform during the pre-wedding celebrations of Anant Ambani, son of Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman of Reliance Industries, and Radhika Merchant, daughter of industrialist Viren Merchant, in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India, March 2, 2024
But for Bollywood’s biggest names, this is the place to be [BBC]

For India’s wedding industry though, it’s still an exciting marketing opportunity.

This is an excellent chance for designers to showcase the more refined side of India’s couture, artistry and craftsmanship, says Anand Bhushan, a fashion designer. That said, the frequency, with celebrities changing five-six outfits per event can sometimes feel a “little saturating”, he admits.

Ms Tharwani says the wedding serves as “an exemplary case” of orchestrating a multi-event, multi-location celebration “that combines tradition, modernity, and unmatched hospitality standards”.

Meanwhile, in Mumbai, Varindar Chawla, one of Bollywood’s best-known paparazzi, is sifting through the photographs of the celebrations.

There are a few of celebrities posing at the entrance as they arrive to attend the various events.

Each one of these pictures – even the unflattering ones, such as of a star looking stunned as the glare of a camera-flash hits them in the face – has been fetching millions of views and shares.

“Usually it’s hard to penetrate events of this scale. But this family has gone out of the way to ensure we are there to cover every little detail,” he says.

“It’s a royal wedding and we are getting a royal treatment.”

[BBC]

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Fashion

Lilamani celebrates birthday with style

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Gracious charm and hospitality at its best was enjoyed by the many friends and relations who gathered to wish Lilamani, popularly called “Lala,” all the best on her birthday, celebrated at the Victorian Room of the Kingsbury Hotel.

The guests enjoyed sparkling conversation, and cake and wine. There was a gourmet spread and music from a live band.Of course style was right on top of the ring and many women gave the impression of having stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine.

With Lilamani and her sisters and nieces among the best dressed, her friends, too, joined the brigade of style. Some doned exquisite sarees and glamorous gowns while others kept it minimal, yet stylish, in smart casuals.

By Zanita Careem

Dr. Lilamani Wijayaratna was a general Physician who worked in UK, having qualified from the Colombo Medical Faculty, she served as a medical officer for many years in Sri Lanka before she moved to UK.

While medicine and fashion are for apart Dr. Lilamani, or “Lala” as friends called her was the exception to the rule.””

“My first love was medicine” she says recalling her desire to be a doctor which was my childhood dream’’ While this desire was within her throughout, style and fashion was part of her life. Hailing from a creative family, her father,Donald Wijayaratna, owner of the then popular Donald Studios and her artistic and creative mother who she adores, had a strong influence on her life and career.Lilamani affirms that her parents creative genes influenced her in many ways than one . ‘I feel my mother’s fashion vibes were felt within me from childhood. From the time time we were kids my mother made sure we were impeccably dressed and fashion was always part of our dressing sense’ she says.Having broken into the fashion world while being a doctor, Lilamani had many fashion shows in UK as well as in Sri Lanka showcasing her clothes designed by her.

Now back home on a permanent basis after a lucrative career in UK, Lilamani is now very much involved in sustainable welfare and social work.She is not just adored by her friends for success in her medical career, but also her style mantra. Whenever and wherever she attends an event , Lilamani emerges as a mesmerising embodiment of elegance leaving an indelible imprint on the tapestry of fashion,effortlessly embodying a harmonious blend of grace,style and timeless allure.

Her birthday soiree was nothing short of a glamorous affair. For this grand occasion, Lilamani wore a stunning ensemble which was both classic and stunning. Some of Lilamani’s batchmates from the Medical College were in attendance. Will Lilamani with her talent and creativity take up to designing clothes?

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Fashion

Joey Clothing opens flagship store

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Joey Clothing, celebrated for infusing joy and happiness into women’s wardrobes across the island recently opened its flagship store at 109 Isipathana Mawatha, Colombo 05. The grand opening event featured an exclusive high-tea and a runway show highlighting Joey’s latest clothing collection.

The beautifully designed flagship store offers shoppers a unique experience with racks of Joey’s signature ‘Happinesswear’. Each piece is crafted from the finest, lightweight fabrics in pleasing colours and patterns, designed to uplift spirits and ensure comfort and style. Joey Clothing’s designs are tailored to fit the Sri Lankan body structure and shape, providing unique styles, cuts, and fits.

This brand was founded by Rashmi Wijekoon, inspired by her personal journey. Reflecting on her postpartum experience, Rashmi shared, “After giving birth to my son, I struggled to find clothes that were comfortable, stylish, and made me feel confident. This challenge led to the creation of Joey Clothing, transforming a mere idea into a reality.”

Launched online over half a decade ago, Joey Clothing quickly grew as women across Sri Lanka resonated with the brand’s promise of stylish, comfortable clothing. The organic growth of the brand highlights the happiness Joey Clothing brings to its customers. Rashmi’s authentic connection with the brand, combined with minimally styled lifestyle shots, has helped Joey Clothing stand out in the market. The increasing number of new and returning customers highlights Joey as one of Sri Lanka’s premier and emerging local female fashion stores.

“All I aimed to do was create something for all women—designs that were on-trend, stylish, and allowed them to feel comfortable throughout their day,” Rashmi explained. “The overwhelming response and the growth of our customer base confirmed the real need for such clothing. This led to the establishment of our online store and now the opening of our flagship store.”

The concept of ‘Happinesswear’ is embedded in every aspect of Joey Clothing. Each design is crafted for ease of movement, using premium lightweight fabrics ideal for Sri Lanka’s tropical climate. The bright patterns and colours are designed to evoke the essence of island life. Joey Clothing ensures that women feel comfortable and confident through all stages of life.

Joey Clothing is also dedicated to uplifting local communities by employing individuals in the production and manufacturing processes. The brand is 100% homegrown, empowering local men and women and providing livelihoods that enhance their lives and the lives of their families.

The flagship store’s vibrant yet minimal design sets it apart from other retail spaces in Sri Lanka, offering an inviting atmosphere to experience the joy of Joey Clothing in person. Customers can explore a wide selection of the brand’s collections available for purchase.

From excelling at Colombo University to running one of Sri Lanka’s upcoming clothing e-commerce stores, Rashmi Wijekoon continues to lead Joey Clothing’s organic growth both online at www.joeyclothing.com and now in-store. Shoppers can visit Joey Clothing’s store in Battaramulla or the new flagship store in Colombo 05.

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