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7.10.2012

[ STORIES IN THE MAKING ] Handcrafted Fashion By Kahani

From the far corners of India to the expanse of the world wide web, newly launched online label Kahani marries the contemporary with the traditional with their opulent line of dazzling shawls, scarves, totes, jewellery and kaftans, all handcrafted by artisans in the Kutch region of Gujarat.  An advocate of ethical production, fair trade and the promotion of indigenous craftwork, Kahani’s founder, New York based Art Director and Designer, Lisanne Gagnon hopes that the products will capture your imagination and instil a desire for the beauty of the handmade in a world of mass consumerism and throwaway fashion. I’m a big fan of intertwining good causes with fabulous products, so I couldn’t have stumbled upon a more apt label to rave about on Wandering Threads. Thus, in awe of all things Kahani I probed Lisanne on how the label came to be:


1. Kahani means “story,” and the spirit of the label bares emphasis on the journey, as well as arriving at a beautiful end product. Can you tell us a little bit about your own story and how Kahani came to be?

In 2010, on my first-ever journey to India, I travelled to a desert district in Western India called Kutch where I witnessed first-hand the creation of a vast range of handicrafts by local artisans of all ages who belonged to a variety of ethnic tribes. Upon returning to New York, I realized how inspiring this experience was and immediately knew I had to return someday and explore further. What transpired through this “return” was essentially the merging of two desires: to work with artisans to create a line of beautiful, handcrafted garments and fashion accessories, and to commit to doing so in ethical and sustainable ways. My efforts began this past winter and by spring I launched Kahani.

2. The promotion of ethnic, indigenous and traditional craftsmanship is evidently something you are very passionate about. When did you first realise your interest in this?

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of 'preserving artisan traditions', ones that survive millennia and are passed down through generations. During my initial trip, I began to understand my fascination was inextricably tied to my passion for traditional culture and ethnic style. Spending time with knowledgeable artisans really opened my eyes to the process and the history behind the craftwork. I realized instinctively that Kahani should be committed to the promotion and preservation of these age-old traditions that, quite honestly, may easily vanish in a fast-changing and globalized economy.


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3. At Kahani, you strive to maintain ethical and sustainable business practices. But how do you ensure the products you sell are made by happy hands?

A core Kahani belief is to create a deeper trust between the artisan and us, and to foster a more meaningful connection between the artisan and the consumer. Kahani works directly with the artisan, without the false “aid” provided by the middleman or soulless factory production. As in centuries past, artisan families work in sections of their own homes.
In addition, all too often artisans remain uncredited and unknown while under the identity of a designer or corporation. It was only natural that the main goals of Kahani would be a) advocating for this grassroots artisan community by spreading a compelling narrative, thereby raising their visibility and b) keeping the integrity of the artisans and their crafts intact. When you buy a Kahani product, you know you are fostering economic self-sufficiency. Kahani items are ultimately one-of-a-kind and hand-picked so, a keen sense of selecting products that showcase excellence and artisan pride became a core focus as well.

4. You’ve been lucky enough to witness, first hand, all these wonderful, traditional techniques in practise, but what do you class as your favourite technique, both for method and finished product?

Tough question! The techniques are all so unique! That said, Ajrakh block printing is something I love, just for its historic nature and the sheer complexity of it. There are only a few communities practicing this craft today. The lengthy process is as much a work of art as the final product!

5. This is just the beginning of the Kahani story, and what a great start! But what new and exciting things have you got planned for the future?

Kahani implies that the bonds with artisans remain concrete and ever-increasing. My next visit to India will be this fall and there will be trust-building with artists in a few different regions of that vast and diverse country. This means new items, more variety, in addition to a new selection of items from Kutch.  That’s exciting to us and hopefully to the consumer. Stay tuned!


6. You must be a bit of an India expert by now with all that travelling! Any advice for those looking to travel to India or those interested in learning about the myriad of traditional crafts during their visit?

There is a wonderful book called “Handmade in India” that documents Indian crafts, organized by state.  I’d suggest an entire itinerary can be planned out based on your interests. Of course, it’s best to take a “small bite.” Because of the welcoming nature of Indian people, you can easily lose yourself in artisan communities for up to a few months! You are immediately engulfed with a sense of family in whichever area you end up! 

7. As a fellow world wanderer, I know for a fact packing for your trips to India can be a bit of a headache. Any tips on how to stay stylish whilst keeping cool and tackling the conservative dress code of India?


Research the heat factor in the region you’re heading to, travel light and buy local! I bought a few  "Punjabi outfits" in local bazaars, which consist of a long tunic and loose harem style pants. They come in an array of fabrics and colors and I find it easy to wear them as separates once I'm back home in New York. I also like to bring light cotton leggings that I wear with long tunics. Leave your jeans at home, It’s far too hot! Because the streets of India are so dusty (and quite dirty!) I prefer shoes to sandals: canvas sneakers are light, comfy and easy to clean! Long scarves and shawls are also a must to protect your skin from the elements and to cover your head if you visit religious sites.


8. As a seasoned India expert, you surely have some favourite shopping destinations? Which places would you recommend for style hunters and please, we implore you to help us with those haggling tips!

Bazaars throughout India are great to buy fun, inexpensive items! I have to admit, I usually don't haggle much. Most of the items in bazaars are quite cheap and I don't mind paying a bit more to support locals. If you really feel you are being asked too much, simply walk away. Usually the vendor will call you back and lower the price. One of the best streets in Mumbai is Colaba Causeway where you can get inexpensive ethnic pieces such as bangles and shows.  I also have a few favourite shops such as Anokhi, for east-west block-printed fashions, Good Earth which is great for home décor and Amrapali for contemporary and antique tribal jewellery

9.  And last but not least, probably the most difficult question of them all, but it has to be asked:  3 favourite pieces from the current collection?

First is the Aruna shawl. I love the narrative behind this piece - it represents a sunrise in the desert.  The Nisha dupattas are also great, versatile block printed scarves. Lastly is the Naisha Shawl. To me is the most stunning piece in the shop right now. It took seven months for the artisan to complete this shawl, it really showcases exceptional handloom weaving skills.

All images courtesy of Kahani. To shop the collection visit the website at shopkahani.com
Make sure you check back tomorrow for details of an exciting giveaway with Kahani!
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