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Interview with Madhumita Nath

Madhumita Nath
Madhumita Nath
Founder & Designer
Ek Katha
Ek Katha

The impact of slow fashion on people & planet is immense
Ek Katha is an India-based designer craft-led luxury sustainable clothing label for women, which creates fashionable, wearable elevated styles in khadi/handloom and batik with biodegradable eco-friendly materials. The label entices its customers to build their wardrobe with handwoven as well as high on fashion clothing, which is interwoven with care for people and the environment. In an interview with Fibre2Fashion, Founder & Designer Madhumita Nath discusses slow fashion in India.

When and how did you start Ek Katha?

It started with an idea to co-create with artisans. It had to be in the craft ecosystem. What would be the intervention was unknown to me. I dived into it like a blank canvas ready to write, guided by my gut feelings, which is typically how I operate. As a design student at NID, Ahmedabad, we were always sent to explore Kutch. We would venture in a group to study craft clusters and the influence of their socio-geography on their crafts.
So, going back to the same region felt like the best way to begin a new journey which in every other way was uncertain, unplanned and banking heavily on serendipitous moments. And that is exactly what happened.
In 2016 through Airbnb I met Kuldeep Gadhavi, who runs a venture called Kutch Adventures and Homestay. There I was in Kutch, guided by him who has a remarkable connect with artisans and has earned their respect as someone who selflessly works towards alleviating the status of those artisans who are lesser known or completely in oblivion. His motto was to help the artisans earn their livelihood by exposing his guests—both Indian and foreign—to their craft.
It was this trip followed by few more, when I met batik artisan Shakeel Khatri—who has been my artisan partner from day one—I discovered the desi indigenous cotton from Kutch which is grown in regenerative ways and is organic. And all the processes, the materials and their visual aesthetics got me excited to commence my clothing label.

Why did you decide to call it EK Katha?

Stories have always got us excited; whether you are a kid or an adult we love stories. Yes, we make clothes for women and sell them, but there is so much more to just creating them. The how, what, who is so exciting to know. Also, the people who make it, where do they live, what do they think and how do they do what they do. So, it was simple. It had to be ‘A Story’- ‘Ek Katha’…a bringing together of stories of what goes behind to creating our garments.

What are some of the materials and crafts you work closely with?

Materials and processes as I have said before are very important. All the materials used in our products are procured from artisan entrepreneurs. They are all handwoven, biodegradable and natural like cotton, silk and linen. Thirty per cent of our collection uses indigenous cotton from Kutch known as kala cotton. We combine it with other fabrics to create our collection.
Batik wax resist block printing practiced in the Kutch cluster is one of the core crafts which give us our signature prints and distinct aesthetics. This craft which was once flourishing in the coastal town of Mundra has been dwindling and is now reduced to a mere 11 families in Kutch. Revival of this craft is what I am working towards along with a local NGO, Khamir based in Bhuj. We are Craftmark certified by AIACA (All India Association of Craftworkers and Artisans) for the process of batik block printing of Kutch.

What are the challenges of having a brand that promotes slow fashion?

The raw materials being handwoven cannot be procured at short notice. One needs to plan an order. For example, 100 metres of fabric would require a 40-day window and will probably reach you after almost 1.5 months.
Secondly, the handloom process and the natural materials put together increases the cost substantially as compared to a mill made fabric of natural material or synthetic material. The margins are therefore low.
Thirdly, while the pricing in fashion is also based on perception of the buyer, selling handmade at low cost is nothing but sacrilege. It deserves its due and should not be undersold. We do struggle within this premise.

What is the consumer perception in India when it comes to slow fashion? Has it changed over the years? How?

The perception of handloom or khadi fabrics is that it is coarse and unfashionable, so educating the buyer about what we are trying to create is necessary to change their opinion and they see more value in a handmade product than what they buy from high street fashion brands. The buyer would still value a traditional saree, but most often not associate it with anything more.
The fact that traditional cloth can also be high on fashion, unique and add value to the buyer’s persona is something of a movement which we are witnessing in the last 10 odd years, and it is picking up steam with sustainability as a very strong trend (also the need of the hour) in the midst of climate crisis that we are witnessing.
Each yardage of cloth is something which cannot be replicated and is not homogenous like a cloth coming out of a rapier loom.

Which are your major markets in India and abroad?

Presently, the focus is on B2C retailing in India, targeting the buyers, usually women between 25-55 years of age, who is upwardly mobile, wants to shop through omni-channels, is digitally native and residing in tier 1 and tier 2 cities in India. We are catering to the niche segment of designer Indo-western contemporary clothing for those who want high fashion with a soul and story.
The US and the GCC markets are what I would like to explore going forward through trade shows to create a B2B export sales channel.

What inspires your design process and clothes?

The craft and the craft environment have always had the biggest influence on me. They have inspired the design’s visual vocabulary. Besides this, nature has always been a safe guide to work on aesthetics and design direction. We are not overly dependent on market trends as most of it is specifically meant to cater to the fast fashion market wherein there are drops every month to keep the buyer interested. We do not put any such pressure on ourselves and create one collection in a year and tweak it based on seasons to cater to the market demands.

What do you with trims, leftovers and waste?

One thing is clear, I just can’t part away with any tiny piece of fabric, so obviously it is kept in a carton. When the time is right, they are all upcycled to create accessories like bags and potlis, clutches or for packaging. They are wrapped over buttons, turned into tiny potli beads and given a new lease of life. In the past, we made jackets too with the leftover fabric. Each piece is unique and upcycled. Nothing is wasted in our small sampling unit. When we scale up, we would figure out ways like turning them into paper or recycled yarn. For now, our intervention is small scale and is working for us.

How do you stay relevant in a world full of fast fashion?

Nothing is more relevant now than practices that lower the carbon footprint. Each small effort by creators/sellers and buyers to move towards a more ecologically aligned life is the need of the hour. Yes, compared to fast fashion slow fashion or conscious fashion is small, but its impact on people and planet is immense, and profit will follow.

What are the future plans at Ek Katha?

Offline retail through EBOs is what we are planning, as it would help the experience of the buyer better. In contrast to when buyers come through online brand website or other marketplaces, feeling and touching the cloth before purchase is still pertinent to fashion. It’s an experience.

Published on: 25/01/2023

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.