An Elegant Blend of Tradition and Fierce: Ramani Fernando
By: Jennifer Anandanayagam
Everystory Sri Lanka presents the first thirty stories from our ongoing work to create a compendium of Sri Lankan women’s stories — featuring those whose lives, work, and experiences have shaped and are shaped by Sri Lanka’s social, political, and cultural contexts.
From the Stories of Sri Lankan Women Archive — Ramani Fernando
With a passion for a frowned-upon profession when she was a child, Ramani Fernando — an iconic name in the hair and beauty industry in Sri Lanka — pursued her dream with dogged determination and support from a loving family. Even as a youngster, Ramani had a keen eye for style and loved dressing up. Her father, a respected lawyer, who noticed her obsession with the mirror, would ask her: “Every time you look, isn’t it the same reflection that you see?”
Her idyllic childhood in Kuliyapitiya was sheltered and simple. Born to Victor and Dorothy de Silva very late in their marriage, Ramani was the family’s baby, with a fourteen-year gap between her eldest sister Shirani. Although she shared a close bond with her two elder sisters — Shirani and Dharini, Ramani was closest to her only older brother Sanath, who, sadly, passed away in a tragic car accident when Ramani was not yet eighteen years of age. The family, stricken with grief, was dealt another major blow when the health of Ramani’s father, which was already deteriorating, took a turn for the worse after his 23-year-old son’s passing. Six months after Sanath’s death, Ramani’s father passed away as well, and Ramani was left feeling the acute loss of both her protectors with whom she had a special bond.
It was on her seventeenth birthday that she met her husband for the very first time. She was married to him before she turned 19. Hailing from a well-respected family, Ranjit had a passion for cricket from a very young age. His cricketing career took them both to England, and that is where Ramani’s burgeoning love for hairdressing found a foothold. With amusement for her bravado, she recalled how, walking the streets of Harrow, looking for job opportunities. Her first attempt in a salon struggling through a trim left the owner politely but firmly telling her to come back when she had learned more. Although humiliated, Ramani realized her need for experience.
A little further down the road, she spotted a sophisticated salon which had a sign on its door asking for ‘juniors.’ “So I walked in there, I had some guts,” she recalled, laughing, “you know I was just 19.” A determined Ramani walked into Gerard London — Martin Gold with trepidation, and after a brief interview, was hired as one of the 15 assistants to the 25 stylists. Her duties ranged anywhere from washing the floors and shampooing to preparing tea and coffee for the clients. Ramani learned a great deal from just observing her stylist to whom she was assigned. “I learned a lot by looking at what she’s doing. I had that talent in me,” she shared. She was eager to learn and in awe of her surroundings. When asked to describe herself in a few words, Ramani shared that her desire to learn is something that defines her. She advised that anyone who comes into the hairdressing profession must never think they know it all.
After her experience at Gerard London — Martin Gold, Ramani was ready to make a name for herself. As one of the eight junior stylists at her next job in a salon named Raymonds, Ramani worked with a very high-spirited African American senior stylist and manager by the name of Rose. An enthusiastic Ramani learned all she could, and when it was time to return to Sri Lanka, she was confident of her new-found knowledge.
With hardly any hairdressers around at the time, Sri Lanka was ripe for novelty, and Ramani’s ‘box room’ in her home at Elibank Road, which became the stage for her talent, was soon overflowing with clients. She recalled being surprised at the response she received and not even being sure how much to charge her clients. “I never meant it to be a business,” she laughed. But a business it became. Soon, her garage turned into her very first salon, and she hired assistants and got into bridals.
“The main challenges we faced with regard to hiring the right amount of people was making sure there were enough staff for each appropriate division within the salon,” shared Ramani, thinking of her business’ fledgling days. She explained that finding the right balance in the salon is never easy, but her staff does a great job of multitasking and can do more than just one service. “When handling the number of customers, we always make sure to keep enough time for each service, so the quality of our services are never compromised.”
Even now, when she hires juniors, she concentrates on giving them the training she received in England, starting from the very basics.
“Empowering staff is so important, especially during these hard times,” said Ramani, adding that they provide comprehensive training programs at their academy — Ramani Fernando Training — “and even in the salon as they work with us.” She explained that the beauty industry is ever-changing in the industry have to make sure to keep abreast with the changes and trends, so their staff is continuously improving themselves and challenging themselves to stay competitive in the industry. “I’m always very happy to hear about staff that have started their own businesses. Being an entrepreneur, it’s wonderful to see people take on the skills they have acquired here under our training and then go on to become successful. I’m always happy for them, and that inspires me as well to keep going.”
With a desire to remain humble and practice the values she was exposed to as a child, Ramani is grateful to her father and husband, both of whom saw the talent and determination in her and provided her with the support and suitable environment to find herself within her passion.
(Features Editor at The Morning, travel fanatic, fitness buff, dreamer, bookworm, writer, and introvert, Jennifer Anandanayagam enjoys listening to people share their stories and finding ways to bring those stories to life through her words on paper.)
Reference Links and Further Reading
- About Ramani Fernado, Ramani Fernando Salons, https://ramanifernando.com/about-us/about-ramani-fernando/
- Ramani Fernando, DailyMirror Online, 24th April 2021, http://www.dailymirror.lk/weekend-online/the_weekend_online/RAMANI-FERNANDO/426-210508
- Hair and Beauty Industry Surges Ahead, ft.lk, 23rd June 2011, http://www.ft.lk/article/36223/Hair-and-beauty-industry-surges-ahead
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