An intrigued audience sat in the auditorium where the Pune Design Festival was in process. On the screen were excerpts of Karishma’s life, which were revealing itself thread by thread, as she excitedly described her passion —the multicolored textures, motifs, tassles and textiles. And then, the screen lit up a different shade, as the garments got replaced by an even more lively subject—the artisans and tailors who weaved in their magic into the crafts. Joining in through a Skype call from Karishma’s office, the artisans said a quick, warm hello to the audience, bringing in faces and personalities responsible for the art, sharing the spirit of the festival.
“I DEFINE FASHION AS SOMETHING THAT IS SECOND TO SKIN”
says Kashmira Shahani Khan, a designer and collaborator of an enterprise called Ka Sha, which she had the honor of speaking at the design festival.
She is also the co founder of Change By Design, which she shares with her husband Wasim Khan. For her, the idea of fashion never limited itself to just the donning of clothes, but has been a concept that shares space with anthropology and ecology. “Fashion has always been an indicator of where we stand as a society,” she continues. Over time, as clothing stood for oppression, for freedom, for change, for stereotyping, Karishma saw how it impacted many lives and fashion became the answer for many of her questions. “From the maker to the wearer, fashion has the power to change the lives of a lot of people along the way,” she says.
Karishma’s multiple interests have helped her understand fashion as she does today. While she completed a short course in Fashion Apparel Design from the School of Fashion Technology in Pune, she simultaneously pursued her BA in Economics from Nowrosjee Wadia College, Pune. It was after this that she went to London College of Fashion, specializing in Womens wear. While the metropolitan city of London opened her mind, making her more accepting than she already was, it was the in-between of her many worlds that she was beginning to find inspiration. In between India and London, and Art and design, she found solace which transformed into her perception of fashion. When she was studying fashion for almost five years, she interned in a variety of places ranging from a production house, an online store, a craft organization, all of which helped her understand business and art, and what accompanies its working. And then, she took a leap of faith and decided it was time to start something of her own, thereby conceiving the idea of Ka Sha.
Standing for storytelling, sustainability, color, craft, consciousness and comfort, Ka Sha is a platform where she brings all things ‘contemporary Indian’. Having worked and collaborated with organizations working on interesting textiles and crafts, her label too has a strong influence of Indian handicrafts. While she was in London, Karishma did an internship with Judy Frater in Kutch, Gujarat.
Starting and managing Ka Sha got with itself its own set of challenges. Based in Pune meant that Mumbai was close, but still far enough to not be able to make a trip for everything that may be necessary. But this challenge of sourcing in Pune opened doors for Karishma to travel. Another challenge was to find kaarigars, but when they started taking in people with little or no experience, a round of training later they were able to build a sustainable ecosystem with the correct processes and finishes.
At Ka Sha, the maker is celebrated. Buying a product from here is not just about the origins of the material or the use of natural fibers, it is also about the state of mind of the maker. Their ideas and concepts find a way into the products, and Ka Sha’s cornerstones of equality and humanity truly reflect in this approach.
“We are very particular about the rights & privileges of our team”
On their garments’ label, the name of the maker is inscribed, extending the maker from a pair of hands in the distance, to a person who put in their ideas into a product.
In all processes, reconstruction and deconstruction are an integral part, as it is for Ka Sha. When Karishma observed things that could not be used the way they were, she turned to reconstructing, whether it was her aunt’s woven saris and handmade jewellery, or Mumbai’s discarded plastic. While the physicality of these objects transformed, the emotional value remained the same, and even increased. Karishma would go to the market and look for versions of plastic and bring them back to try and re-work them into wearable products. Ka Sha today uses discarded t-shirts, post-production textile waste and weaves them into cardigans and textiles for their products. Bringing this aspect of unmaking and remaking forward, Karishma started an initiative called ‘Heart to Haat’. Following through with their zero waste policy, this label features all 100% upcycled and recycled products.
“The experience of living and working with the artisans was extremely
exciting & inspiring, I loved it & have always loved working with craft since”
Karishma believes she is patiently impatient, and a focused multi tasker. This together makes her a good observer, as her work is inspired by things she comes across in daily life—a person, an object, a story. And when the idea strikes, she likes writing a brief, giving herself a framework. Hands-on with her work, she does research and develops her own samples—stitching, weaving, dying and embroidery. Designing while travelling helps her focus, and creative blocks are worked through by putting ideas in perspective.
Growing up, Karishma had wanted to be many different things—an anthropologist, an environmentalist, and a lawyer. But her passion sketched itself in a small book from when she was ten years old, where she drew people in clothes and wrote a description of their clothing beside the illustrations. “My father still has it,” Karishma smiles. Today, aspects of all her dreams are reflected in who she is; aspects that seem to havehand-woven together to create her unique personality, much like the garments she designs—where dyes of a color slowly merge into another, creating a new color somewhere between.