Delhi-born Kartik Kumra has always loved clothes. As a teenager, she used to resell clothes online — which, over the years, sparked her interest in fashion. Kumra, however, said “Iit became very clear that nothing looked like it represented my culture at the top level in the best shops.” So he made clothes that could.
Except, he’s not fashion designer. He was, in fact, an Economics student at the University of Pennsylvania. However, defying the unquestioned norm that fashion design requires formal education, Kumra not only taught himself design but also created menswear creations that would attract the attention of leading global fashion retail platforms such as SSense, Mr Porter, Selfridges, and Calculus, among others. another.
When asked about his unconventional appearance fashion education, he said, “Lots of hours on YouTube. I taught myself about luxury garment construction online and through some of the great Margiela (Maison) books. In general, as a fan of these items, I know what standards are required for these shops. I’m still learning a lot by working with our pattern master. I presented him with new ideas that he had never explored before and I just picked up the knowledge by watching him work.”
Founded during the pandemic, it defines its one-year-old brand – Karu – as ‘vintage of India’s future’. “The idea behind it is to make a product to a standard that can someday be found in a good place antique shop. In the design process I was referring to vintage military silhouettes and vintage Armani, vintage Margiela, so this also refers to that. We also work with vintage textiles and fabrics that are meant to age gracefully.”
His first collection, for which he only “learns how to make clothes”, was made during pandemic: “I have nothing to do and have this idea in the back of my head. I traveled to several artisanal communities and started reaching out craftsman via Instagram and amassed enough textiles to start producing one on one with a tailor unit near my house.” As of now, Karu operates out of his room in Delhi.
It was because of the vast network of Kumra craftsmen spread across the country. He works with 40 independent craftsmen, and 10 clusters in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal and printers in Bagru dan Ajrakho together kantha craftsmen and hand embroiderers in different parts of the country. Kumra says Instagram has been a great resource “because a lot of craftspeople and NGOs will have accounts documenting things they might have produced five or ten years ago. I still have a lot to learn as Karu continues to increase the number of people producing fabrics for the brand. It’s really cool to be a small brand and have such an exclusive fabric, I feel like that’s really rare these days.”
And now, both collections have stolen the attention of the international community. Sharing the inspiration behind it, Kumra said it came from when he “listened to a lot of The Strokes and 2000s indie rock and wanted to see if India had a history with it”.
“After The Beatles have visited India and as several colonial era record labels had offices here, an indie rock scene with some psychedelic themes began to emerge in India. I found some pictures from the Simla Beat competition and found a compilation album from this era. The outfit has a look adapted to the 70s style with some colorful accents. I think young people who like punk dressing up for government and corporate jobs during the week will style the same outfit in a more slovenly fashion for an indie rock concert on a weekend. So I wanted to capture that essence in this collection through the silhouettes used.”
Kumra says the brand manages to tap into a community of people who are “very invested in their clothing and pride themselves on being the first to do something new. People of South Asian descent living overseas also respond to those things very well, there’s something nostalgic about the clothes.”
When asked about whether he had any intention of entering the Indian market, Kumra said he wanted to, but it was much more difficult. “My hypothesis is, that’s the case because as Indians we can sometimes have a pretty low sense of self-worth about what we can produce, heritage based products are often undervalued compared to international brand. So, to get the message across, there’s an educational process to address doubts that really don’t exist with our overseas customers.” Even so, Kumra admits that there is a customer base looking for the kind of stuff Karu makes. He just has to get better at breaking the news given that Kumra has no intention of playing the “social media celebrity chase game more than I have to to stay on.”
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