In 1980, Dale Garn & Trikotasje AS, a textile company in Norway that had just celebrated its centenary was interested in setting up a project in Sri Lanka. The project was to produce a Hand Knit Collection to compliment Dale’s machine knit collection.
Dale Garn & Trikotasje AS established in 1879 primarily to produce pure Norwegian wool yarns began producing machine knitted sweaters somewhere in the 1950’s. They were the official outfitters to the Norwegian Winter Olympic Teams. By 1990’s Dale was well known internationally for its high-quality Hand Knitting yarns as well as the machine knitted garments. However, they needed a hand knitted collection using Dale’s own hand knitting yarn,
and it was impossible to knit the volumes they needed in Norway for this collection to cater to the Norwegian market
as well as the Export market which was rapidly expanding.
In January 1981, two senior Directors from Dale Garn & Trikotasje AS, Knut Gjertsen and Sigvat Malmo arrived in
Sri Lanka to have discussions with Arjuna Hullugalle, Asoka Goonetilleke and Arthur Subasinghe.
While they accepted that Sri Lanka was a suitable venue for the project, they expressed grave concerns whether
Sri Lankan girls could learn to knit intricate Norwegian Designs using the continental method of circular knitting which was not known in Sri Lanka then. Having been a British Colony it was only the British method that was known and thought in girls’ schools and convents during the colonial era.
On their return to Norway Knut Gjertsen and Sigvat Malmo made a strong recommendation to the Company
that a pilot project be started in Sri Lanka. Advice was sought from Rev Mother Good Counsel Mills, an Irish nun
and former Provincial of the Good Shepherd Order on the continental method of knitting and she introduced
Rev Sister Mary Gertrude of St.Joseph’s Convent, Kollonnawa an expert in hand knitting.
For the purpose of the pilot project a partnership ‘Craft Knit’ was registered with Arthur Subasinghe as the overall Manager, as he possessed substantial administration knowledge in the textile field having worked in government managed textile corporations. Knut Gjertsen planned to bring his wife Asta-Marie Gjertsen to train the first batch of Girls. Discussions were held with Rev Sister Gertrude who brought in her friend Mrs. Leela Perera a lady involved in social service and also an expert in crochet techniques to start the training as a residential one-month course at the Good Shepherd Convent, Weligampitiya, in Ja-Ela which commenced on the 21 st of September 1981.
It was decided to “take the industry to the village” by setting up a series of Knitting Centres in different areas where employment opportunities were scarce. By this arrangement girls could come to work from their homes and return home in the evenings – no boarding fees, no transport costs, no pressures moral or otherwise, and they could take home their entire earnings.
By the end of 1981 there were 120 girls in training in centres established at Kollonnawa, Munnakkara, Negambo,
Nuwara Eliya and Kochchikade. The initial training was a huge success and centres were opened in other areas.
By 1985 the workforce had increased to more than 400 knitters, and production had improved tremendously both in quantity and quality as the girls acquired experience.
The partnership was converted to a Limited Liability Company Dale Craft Knit (Pte) Ltd as a joint venture with Dale and local shareholders. The Company in Norway changed its name to Dale of Norway AS, as the brand “Dale of Norway” was well known globally. The business in Sri Lanka was now no longer a pilot project, but a recognized export oriented joint venture approved by and registered with the government of Sri Lanka.
In 1982, the Head Office of the Company was handled single handed by Arthur Subasinghe. He had been over the years the person who had been most responsible for the success of Dale Craft Knit (Pte) Ltd. The business was expanding rapidly, with an increase in the quantity of raw material imported, increased export volumes necessitating expertise in packing and documentation, and most importantly close coordination with knitting centers and implementing systems and procedures for close monitoring.
Priyantha Subasinghe who had helped the project from the beginning but left in 1983 to join a reputed and well-known mercantile company in their export department, re- joined as Assistant Manager in 1985 and implemented new procedures with the knowledge he had gained in the export field.
In 1991, Knut Gjertsen announced his retirement from Dale of Norway AS, and Randi Sunde was appointed by the Norwegian company to overlook and coordinate the Sri Lankan Project. Arthur Subasinghe too retired from the Company a few years later and by this time Priyantha Subasinghe was in overall charge. Randi Sunde who was a skilled Designer and an expert knitter herself took the Sri Lankan Company to its next level. Organizing half yearly or yearly workshops for the knitters in advanced knitting techniques, she introduced new designs, colour schemes and intricate patterns mixing tradition with modern trends and fashion which was the need in the 90’s. This completely changed the production that were being done in the first decade and by the year 2000 the knitters were skilled and experienced to tackle any intricate design to meet future demands.
By the year 2006 many changes had taken place in the management of the Norwegian Company having a ripple affect in the Sri Lankan Company. Dale of Norway AS, withdrew from the joint venture and sold its shares to another Norwegian Entrepreneur. Dale was no more in Sri Lanka and the Local Company changed its name.
By the beginning of 2007, Priyantha Subasinghe decided to leave the local company and started his own organization – KALARO with a staff of two – Hemantha Mendis as Production Coordinator and Priyanthi Pushpakumari Samarasinghe as Quality Controller. With a workforce of more than 50 of the best skilled knitters, the cream of the Sri Lankan hand knitting community which Priyantha Subasinghe himself had helped to develop in the last two decades KALARO got off to a sound start offering its services to Dale of Norway, and to other Yarn manufacturers in Norway.
In 2011 Harsha de Silva, one of the 1 st Trainees who underwent training with Asta Marie Gjertsen in 1981 joined KALARO and is today its Senior Quality Controller. Having started as an Individual Export organization with the approval and registration of all government institutions, KALARO started recruiting knitters and setting up centres in areas such as Negambo, Balapitiya, Kalutara, Wattala, Kollonnawa, Bandarawela, etc., and today employs over 180 highly skilled hand
From the inception of the Company Kalaro has been offering its services to Fashion Design students as a service to the community and has been responsible for the production of many Graduation Collections. Conducting workshops and lectures for Universities and Design Schools, Kalaro has advised students on the technical aspects of knitting and crochet to bring out the maximum talent and creativity in them while maintaining their original concepts.
In 2014, A .Buddhipriya Cosmas joined KALARO as Manager, Administration and Product Development.
A. Buddhipriya Cosmas is a Graduate holding a Degree in Fashion Design from the Department of Integrated Design of the Faculty of Architecture, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. He underwent full time industrial training at KALARO during his academics with learning all aspects of the organization.
In 2017, the sole proprietorship under Priyantha Subasinghe was converted to a Limited Liability Company with
A .Buddhipriya Cosmas and Hemantha Mendis as other Directors and share holders of the Company.
With this recent development the Company is now geared to face the challenges of the future.
“KALARO has earned its respect among clients from across the globe for producing exceptionally high quality
hand-knitted woolen garments.
The word Kalaro means ‘a stream of art’ a continuous flow of design & creativity. Specialized in hand-knitting and crochet we utilize our resources to the highest capacity and involving the expertise and talents of all our employees consisting of highly skilled knitters most of whom have over 20 years of experience, and a specialized
Product Development unit that has the capacity to tackle any complicated knitting design to meet the initial
design needs of our clients.
All our knitters are given a comprehensive training in hand knitting at the time of joining, and training on
more advanced knitting techniques are carried out from time to time. Our organization currently employs approximately 130 hand-knitters in different locations”.