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Ka-Sha makes a splash at the London Fashion Week

The Pune-based label's take on Indian fashion is a refreshing departure from the usual narrative on global ramps

A look from Ka-Sha’s Autumn/Winter 2017 collection, which was presented at the International Fashion Showcase.
A look from Ka-Sha’s Autumn/Winter 2017 collection, which was presented at the International Fashion Showcase.

Earlier this month, as fashion editors and buyers bustled about The Store Studios, the official venue of London Fashion Week (LFW), viewing the Spring/Summer 2018 collections of a legion of British designers, from J.W. Anderson to Emilia Wickstead, they were also witness to something that’s not native to the region—Indian fashion label Ka-Sha’s bold and colourful designs.

Karishma Shahani Khan, founder of the Pune-based brand, landed a coveted spot in the Designer Showrooms space at the sprawling venue, alongside Ragini Ahuja of the label Ikai and Ujjawal Dubey of Antar-Agni, by collectively edging out designers from 25 other countries for an award announced earlier this year—the International Fashion Showcase Country Award. In an effort to cement London’s status as a city that celebrates global culture and style, the International Fashion Showcase (IFS), launched in 2012 by the British Council and the British Fashion Council, brings together dozens of contemporary fashion designers each year to present collections built around a specific theme.

This year, the theme was Local/Global, and an Indian design collective, curated by IMG Reliance and comprising five labels—Ka-Sha, Ikai, Antar-Agni, P.E.L.L.A and Kaleekal—presented a sustainable collection titled Indian Pastoralists. The collection won them the IFS Country Award, which, in turn, led to a spot in the Designer Showrooms this season (of the five designers, two were unable to participate).

Karishma Shahani Khan.
Karishma Shahani Khan.

Khan sees this as an opportunity to present to a discerning global audience a different tale of Indian fashion. “People (at LFW) had their own vision of India, to do with pigeons and peacocks and zari and zardozi," she laughs. “They weren’t expecting what they saw. But this is what India is. This is the kind of clothing we make; we didn’t alter our style to be there. I think it made people look at Indian fashion in a new way."

Looking at Indian fashion in a new way is something Khan has been doing since she launched her label in 2011. Her eye for colour, pattern and texture is refreshingly original, as is the execution of her ideas. Her runway ensembles, for example, always comprise several separates, artfully layered. And when she sends a sari down the runway—let’s just say it’s not your grandmother’s sari. It may be calf-length and worn over cropped trousers and brogues, or perhaps have a pallu finished with multi-coloured pompoms. Given this penchant for striking a balance between the traditional and offbeat, IFS’ Local/Global directive seems particularly pertinent. “It was a very apt inspiration for us," Khan says. “It’s what we aim to achieve with every collection. We’re constantly looking inward for inspiration, but our clothing (and its relevance) is not limited to India."

The universal appeal of her designs is evident in the response she received at LFW. “People were fascinated by the use of colour, the layers, the hand embroidery. And there are stories associated with every piece—whether it’s the motifs, the fabrics or the multifunctionality of a particular garment. It’s great to be able to explain these details to an enthusiastic group of people, and refreshing to hear their opinions. Sometimes you hear things you’d never thought about before. That interaction really excites me."

The collection that won India the IFS Country Award is based around the sartorial traditions of various indigenous tribes, with each of the five designers taking on one specific community.

“I drew inspiration from the Rabari tribe in Kutch," says Khan. She brought in elements from their traditional style of dressing, such as mirror-work embroidery, stripes and tie-dye, and used primarily cotton and Mashru silk, fabrics favoured by the tribe. Drawing on the fact that this is a nomadic group always on the move, Khan designed pieces that are reversible and wearable in different ways. “When you’re travelling, it’s nice to have pieces that can be worn in different ways to look new."

This concept of longevity and sustainability is something that has defined the Ka-Sha label from its inception, and Khan finds unique ways to play with the concept every season, upcycling scraps of fabric into hand-knotted shawls or reusing excess material as yokes for new designs. Zero wastage is a major policy at the Ka-Sha brand—“we don’t throw anything away," she says—and by producing only on order, she is able to further eliminate the possibility of waste.

Whether it’s creating a whole line out of salvaged Banarasi sari borders, or developing a fabric out of onion sacks interlaced with wool and ribbons, Khan is constantly pushing the boundaries of what constitutes conscious, sustainable fashion. “As Indians, we believe in the idea of being innovative with the little that you have," she says. “You have to learn to work within limitations. That’s when the exciting stuff happens."

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