Karishma Shahani Khan’s knack for color, commitment to sustainability and love for every thing Indian is rooted in her childhood. Spending time with family members who loved art and literature had a profound influence on her work.
“Fashion was never a part of the plan,” she says. Shahani recalls her scrapbook, a gift from her father being a bearing ground of all her fantasies while growing up. Seeing their daughter being intrigued by finer details of her surroundings, Karishma’s parents understood her passion for fashion early on.
“I am not a fashion designer per se, I am an artist who creates clothes” she explains. And today her understanding of fashion as an art form manifests in her creations. Unapologetic use of bright colors, dupattas with pom poms and pieces which tell a tale of India’s rich craft heritage have become her signature. Karishma’s passion for art was fuelled by a variety of sources, primarily by her art historian and educationist aunt, Madhavi Kapoor. She recalls her as a ‘true creative’ and a ‘matriarch’ and credits her for introducing a young Shahani to different forms of textiles. “In a time when women were still trying to map out their social standing in a variety of spheres, Madhavi became a force to reckon with” Shahani informs.
Another family member who inspired Karishma as a kid was her grand aunt, Sita Shahani, who become one of the first women from Pune to visit the UK in the 50’s for her studies.
Karishma who has won several national and international accolades is not new to ‘Made in India’ philosophy. Her great grand parents were freedom fighters. And as a part of the independence revolution, her great grand father donned only hand spun khadi through out his life. Though Karishma wasn’t born at the time, her grandmother who was a poet and an author, fed her some rich familial history through her writings.
Today, the 30-year-old designer, who is a mother of one, takes pride in her work. Needless to say, the stories she heard growing up find a reflection in her creations. Through her mood boards, she returns to her roots time and again. “While a student of design at London College of Fashion, I realized how much I missed India and its eclectic design elements. This feeling of nostalgia led me to create ‘Yatra’, my final graduate collection inspired by Indian nomadic culture and crafts” says she. Her fresh take on clothes was not just noticed by the fashion magazines but she soon became a retail favorite too.
As an intern, while in London she used to fly back home to work with ‘Kalarksha’, a craft based organization in Kutch. It was here that she honed her skills and got opportunities to meet a number of weavers and dyers. “In this fast pace fashion business, the crafts and craftsmen of the region have maintained their pride in what they do and you don’t have to see them as a case study”, she explains. It was during her stay that she noticed the self-sufficiency of this core group of craftsmen.
While on her regular visits to India as a student she used to observe details that can easily be missed. Those ‘tarpoline’ covered slums and street dwellers wearing layers of clothes prompted her to create pieces that not only represented India but made a social statement too. Keeping reversibility, multiple layering and responsible fashion in focus her label finally took a concrete shape and in 2011, she launched Ka-Sha.
“Our aim at Ka-Sha is to create responsible fashion” informs Karishma. The label operates with a commitment to zero waste policy, everything is used and reused. The fabric is bought directly from a number of NGOs, avoiding middle men so that the remuneration goes directly to the craftsmen. Her sub brand ‘Heart to Haat’, too, is an extension of Karishma’s designing for a cause. With 100 percent up cycling being at the core, it is made sure that nothing goes waste in the production process. Waste is reinvented as patchwork jackets, material for embroidery and even footwear.
Recently, Karishma was a part of an award-winning, five member team which represented India at the London Fashion Week. Each designer had to create pieces befitting the theme ‘Indian Pastoralists’. And Karishma once again looked back at India for her inspiration. Her idea was to reinterpret the crafts of Rabari tribe of Kutch region and give them a contemporary appeal. She created skirts, tops, and jackets using traditional techniques of tie and dye, thread embroidery, mirror work, and appliqué.
In all her collections, be it ‘Yatra’, ‘Khoj’ or ‘Chauraha’, she has positioned India as a focal point. Her beautiful cotton separates, comfortable multiple paneled trousers and slouchy shirts though might represent a modern facet of her thinking, in reality, she is a true daughter of the soil, who might be consuming what nature has to offer, believes in giving it back and retaining its glory.
With sustainability becoming a word, used and misused in the fashion industry there are a few who are pinning it to its true meaning. And Karishma is surely one of them.
Originally published in eShe.in