Since its debut at the Delhi Fashion Week with a spring/summer 2009 collection, 11.11/eleven eleven has been questioning the fashion system. Milan, Italy-trained Shani Himanshu launched the slow fashion brand with a limited batch of seasonless garments, employing artisans who worked with indigenous cotton and focused on heritage techniques, such as hand spinning, miniature tie-dye and quilting.
Their approach to slow fashion—creating fewer clothes and talking more about fashion’s responsibility to local artisans—was so unique at the time that it made fashion editors realise they needed to start probing the fine details of how designers were creating clothes. Even today, the brand follows the “Know your Makers” system: An NFC, or near-field communication, button attached to every garment ensures the buyer can know which craft cluster and artisan worked on the piece.
Now they are ready to talk about a new initiative that has been in the making for seven years: a child art project that hopes to give a community of kantha workers a regular income while bringing to life the artwork of children in clothes and accessories. For this, 11.11 has formed Kala Khoj, a for-profit producer company co-owned by artisans based in the Khambra village in Kachchh, Gujarat, a centre of craft. Anyone can send their child’s art to the brand; they will take it to artisans and try to replicate it on fabric. Each handmade piece will take three-five months, with price points starting at ₹5,250 for a cushion or a tote bag and going up to ₹37,000 for a queen-size quilt. The initiative will be launched formally on Gandhi Jayanti, 2 October.
Himanshu and Mia Morikawa (who joined the brand as a partner in 2009) realised the only way to really empower a craft cluster was to create a collaborative community of artisans to produce clothing made to international standards from “seed to stitch”.
“We realised most of the indigenous practices lack the resources to build a complete product for today’s demand. As a brand, it was important to fill the gap and make the complete value chain sustainable,” says Himanshu, explaining the long gestation period. “Craft workers had to be trained into working at scale and to understand the needs of the fashion industry.” Child art is just the starting point. Eventually, Kala Khoj should be able to take over the work for other brands, from start to finish.
At present, the initiative includes over 400 artisans across crafts such as bandhani (tie and dye), embroidery, kantha, weaving, natural dyeing. Moreover, Kala Khoj can finish a garment with tailoring and stitching too.
“The idea is to design a system that will generate work for the artisans consistently so that the brand does not have the burden of keeping them busy,” explains Himanshu. Why children’s artwork? “Because it’s unique. Children are free thinkers and their imaginations run wild. Their visual expression is instinctive, spontaneous and playful. It’s a form of memory, a way of preserving ideas in its purest form to register the world around us. Therefore, every drawing is unique and special, which reflects in the finished piece.”
Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.