Otara Gunewardene

The Visionary

Nurtured by Otara’s business acumen, passion and unique insight into retailing – Odel transformed the fashion landscape of Sri Lanka, while making a significant impact on the tastes and preferences of shoppers. Her success also led the entry of many players into to the industry, expanding the market significantly. Yet, under the leadership of Otara – Odel never lost its distinctive edge and continued to be the standard to follow. Understanding the fact that how people dress and shop is related to how they feel was a basic, yet powerful truth which Otara understood and used to shape her business. This, not only gave customers a choice of contemporary, “feel good” ensembles that she herself loved to wear, for those who were not great followers of fashion it also offered the assurance that items purchased from Odel, were handpicked by Otara herself, guaranteeing the latest trends and best in quality. Her vision; a place which would provide a diverse array of products catering to every fashion-conscious individual and where one is guaranteed an item of clothing to their liking. Yet, most of all a place that is more than just a “store” – rather, one that presents a multi-sensorial shopping experience that makes a shopper come back for more.

Understanding the components of our totality as human beings and using her ability to visualize and create innovative new spaces, Otara incorporated the Mind, Body & Soul concept into every aspect of her product. From the one-of-a-kind store layouts and distinctive visual merchandising, to the creative advertising campaigns, excellent customer service and exclusive product offering sourced locally and internationally – Odel evolved into being one of the largest fashion retailers and one of the most iconic brands in the region. Today, a must-visit tourist destination on par with international department stores in the likes of Harrods and Harvey Nichols, Odel has set the standards in fashion retail in Sri Lanka, with approximately 20 stores island-wide. All of this provided an exciting new platform for individuals to not just solely buy, but to dream, aspire and express themselves through a stylish, lifestyle brand.

As Odel evolved into a brand with international stature, Otara’s desire to make a change in society led her to make sustainability an integral part of Odel’s corporate culture. She spearheaded many of its causes over the years, identifying key issues and tackling them with a hands-on approach with the help of a capable team. From providing relief to the victims of the tsunami by constructing 18 houses to benefit families affected by it, to sponsoring the welfare of differently-abled children, tree-planting and beach clean-ups, Odel has witnessed the gathering of both old and young uniting together towards a common cause. From raising awareness on baby elephants to sleek leopards – Otara, together with Odel, championed their causes through adoption projects, petitions and book promotions. The Odel range of t-shirts featuring images and messages about endangered animals has gone on to create strong awareness about animal conservation.
The desire and vision to influence positive lifestyle change is embedded in a cause which is not only close to Otara’s heart, it has become the focal point of who she is today and how she sees the future. Structured with its own built-in sustainability factor, Embark is a fashion brand and an initiative which focuses on the welfare of street dogs in Sri Lanka;

Eight years ago when I was driving home from work I saw three tiny puppies playing on the side of the road. And like most people do, I drove past because it was just another stray dog and what could I do with him. The next day when I drove back to work, I saw them again but this time there was only one. The nicest brown puppy with big eyes all alone and this time I thought I could not drive past. So I picked him up thinking I will give him away to someone kind, but I never did give him away. My sons saw him and we all fell in love with him. We decided to keep him and named him “Niko.” 


Otara embark

The idea of Embark began with a heart to help ignored and unwanted animals. With the popular demand being for pedigree dogs, while there were a countless number of street dogs who needed care, attention and a good home, Otara wanted to show society the love and companionship these furry friends could offer anyone who was willing to open their homes and hearts to them;


This is why I started Embark. Here was a dog no one wanted, that even I would drive past and not want to help. I spent so much money buying pure bred dogs and then I had Niko the most loving, kind, grateful and happy dog…all for free.


Since the initiative was launched in 2007, over the years, Otara diligently focused on numerous projects while partnering with different organizations and professionals to improve the welfare of street dogs around Sri Lanka. Embark’s uniqueness lies in the fact that its extensive fieldwork; saving the injured, sterilization and vaccinations, re-homing and education and awareness initiatives are supported through the profits made by its trendy clothing and accessories collection which emphasize on making it “fashionable” to own a Sri Lankan Street Dog. From the initial four monochrome t-shirts, the current collection is now filled with fun and stylish clothing; cheeky taglines, fun prints and bedazzling embellishments. In addition, the Embark fashion brand is characterized by its 3 mascots, initially Niko, later joined by Bandit and Rozzy – all street pooches who were subsequently adopted by Otara. Each pooch brings its own personality and element of fun to the merchandise, undoubtedly making Embark a truly one-of-a-kind brand with a heartfelt vision.

The instinct to ignite change led Otara to be involved in a gamut of projects ranging from; animal welfare, environmental conservation, leadership in women, to encouraging entrepreneurship, helping the aged, building houses for the needy and more. For her, the confidence to pursue a vision while making a positive change in the world, is not just about business, it really is a way of life.

Embark opens at Kandy Nugegoda
The Embark Volunteer Awards
Q & A at London Stock Exchange
Otara featured on LMD’s 2018 A List of Business People
Methodist College Commerce Day
Stop Child Cruelty Walk and Petition
Feeding of Hungry Street Animals
Tree Planting at the Kandana Water Treatment Plant
Launch of Sri Lanka’s very first Pet Insurance
Otara joins BioFoods as Brand Ambassador
embark logo