With an increase in conversation about the ethics and environmental effects of the fashion industry, more home-grown brands are cropping up that are putting the focus on slow, sustainable clothing. Ek Katha, an Indian designer craft-led luxury label is one of them. Founded by NID Ahmedabad graduate Madhumita Nath, it is spotlighting indigenous crafts like batik and combining them with eco-friendly materials like cotton to create easy-to-wear, breathable silhouettes for the modern Indian woman.
We speak to Nath about what it takes to make a brand slow fashion, the challenges that come with it, and how a bride-to-be can be more mindful about her wedding outfits.
Brides Today: How did Ek Katha come about—when and how did you start the label?
Madhumita Nath: I started ideating in 2016—it wasn’t an intentional entrepreneurial journey, I just travelled to Kutch and discovered Shaqeel Ahmed Khatri who works with batik, and then I went to Khamir, Bhuj where I saw a lot of kala cotton production. I decided to experiment, so I made a small collection of batik and a desi cotton capsule, which I then exhibited in Spain in 2018.
It was only when I got selected as Gen-Next at Lakme Fashion Week in 2019, and was mentored that I thought I should take it up as a fashion collection and as a business. But in 2020 Covid hit us. So, it was only last year that the company got incorporated as Ek Katha clothing.
BT: What was the inspiration behind the name of the brand—why did you decide to name it Ek Katha?
MN: The reason I named it Ek Katha, which means a story, is because I wanted to tell the story of not just the garment which is made but also the story behind it and the hands working on it. The idea was to associate the label with everything handmade and slow.
BT: You’re a big proponent of slow fashion—do you think the modern Indian consumer has an appetite for it, and has the perception towards conscious clothing changed over the years?
MN: When people think of indigenous and handloom garments, the perception is that it will be a basic kurta or dupatta. At Ek Katha, we are trying to re-imagine it by showing that it can be luxurious. There are now more home-grown labels too, who are working with handloom and trying to change the perception of how it can be fashionable as well.
The buyer always wants something fashionable, but if they shop something that is fashionable and has a story behind it and is sustainable, then they feel more validated about their purchase. It is a niche market for sure—the number of people who would want to go for slow fashion is less but I would say the younger generation is more aware of what the impact of clothing can be on both humans and the environment.
BT: Would you ever launch an exclusive bridal collection—what would it look like?
MN: I would love to! Maybe a little bit of embroidery or sarees—in fact, it’s all in the pipeline. When it comes to how it would look, if you’ve seen our collection then you’ll know that nothing is over the top. So, our bridal collection too would be understated and elegant—it will not be red or fuschia. The feel of the natural material, tone on tone, and monotone—that vibe will still be there. We will introduce these and see how the customers respond to the ethnic collection.
BT: What are your tips for making a wedding trousseau more sustainable—how can a bride be more mindful when it comes to her outfits?
MN: While it depends on the bride’s way of thinking, but your mother’s or grandmother’s sarees can work with a twist—maybe you can give drape an embroidered dupatta over it or even have a custom blazer to wear with it. I think it would be quirky and interesting to combine something traditional that has been passed down from generations and giving it your own twist.
BT: What does your clientele look like—is it only the youth audience that is more receptive to sustainable clothing or is it across other generations as well?
MN: I would say from Gen Z, to millenials, to even the younger boomers—25-55 years old is the entire range. Now, from the inputs I get from my website, the age group of 25-34 year olds is viewing the clothing range, but the conversion is much more in the 35-44 year old category where they have the financial fluidity to purchase it. They are not impulsive shoppers and are engaged more in mindful shopping.
BT: According to you, what makes a brand slow fashion?
MN: For me, what differentiates a slow fashion brand are the processes and materials. For example, cotton doesn’t mean it cannot be mill-made. If the processes are such that human intervention is there, then naturally the processes are going to be slow.
BT: What indigenous techniques and art do you take inspiration from when it comes to your collections?
MN: Batik is one of our core crafts—all our designs feature block prints and we get our blocks customised in the designs we want. The visual inspiration can be from nature, from architecture— the new collection that is going to be launched next month is inspired by the Mughal jaalis, and many times the craft itself inspires us to create something. When it comes to the material, right now 30 per cent of the collection is regenerative desi cotton—mainly kala cotton from Gujarat, but I’m also looking at sourcing other varieties of cotton from different regions. We use linen and silks too and going forward would love to experiment with bamboo and hemp as well.
BT: What are the challenges you’ve faced as a slow fashion brand?
MN: One of the biggest challenges for a slow fashion brand is that the margins are less—I’m not only putting myself in the environmentally-safe and biodegradable sphere, but there’s also the fact that the fabric is not machine-made or power-loom woven. Plus, the customer’s perception matters too—the same dress can be made with a cheaper material and through a less expensive process so while the interest is there, the conversion is slow. I’m on other marketplaces and have my own website but I can’t possibly compete with Amazon or create an inventory. We make our clothes made-to-order, so the customer has to wait at least 15 days to get the product so this is another factor that I lose out on—that it is not ready to ship. And of course, since I’m working with handloom, there’s a lot of rejection during production— weaving mistakes, cases of dyes bleeding, and more.
Lead image: Ek Katha
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