LFW Grand Finale Preview: Label Saaksha & Kinni focuses on Banjara tribe

In a span of mere four years, Saaksha Bhat and Kinnari Kamat’s label Saaksha & Kinni has moved from Lakme Fashion Week GenNext 2016 to Lakmé Absolute Grand Finale.
(L) Kinnari Kamat and Saaksha Bhat, the duo behind the label Saaksha & Kinni, (R) A sketch of their creation that will unveil tonight at LFW
(L) Kinnari Kamat and Saaksha Bhat, the duo behind the label Saaksha & Kinni, (R) A sketch of their creation that will unveil tonight at LFW

In a span of mere four years, Saaksha Bhat and Kinnari Kamat’s label Saaksha & Kinni has moved from Lakme Fashion Week GenNext 2016 to Lakmé Absolute Grand Finale. Their secret? Taking traditional Indian prints, weaves and handwork techniques and giving it a global appeal. The duo has also reinvented the way we consumed these traditional prints and weaves like ikat, leheriya and patola, and turned them around in a way that it can be consumed by women across the globe on any given day - there are tunics, kaftan, skirt and bustier, pre-stitched saree dress, kurta, maxi dress, etc, in silhouettes that either fall freely or complement the body. In the last few months only, their garments, especially with double-ikat print and micro-pleated technique, were seen on the likes of Dia Mirza, Mira Rajput, Samantha Akkineni, Alia Bhatt and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to name a few to ring in festivals, birthdays and other occasions.  

As the duo gears up to close the five-day bi-annual fashion week on Sunday, we catch up with Saaksha Bhat to know more about their upcoming collection, techniques that brought them recognition and pandemic, and their key to success. Excerpts from the conversation: 

Q: Run us through the mood board of your Lakmé Absolute Grand Finale collection. Which prints and fabrics have you used?
Our mood board focuses on the Banjara Tribe – in particular, the women and their impeccable sense of fashion. The board emphasises, colour, layering, and mirror work.  

The collection focuses on Banjara women's lehengas and cholis – which we have reimagined as skirts and shirts, their exquisite use of hand embroidery, mirror work and prints. We have used chiffons and cotton silk to represent fluidity and femininity, mixed with drills to add depth and a touch of masculinity. The prints we have used centre around the mirror embroidery used by the Banjara women, we have also used abstract florals, polkas and the stripes of Rajasthan.

Q: Take us through the patterns and silhouette that you are bringing to the finale? Also, run us through the surface detailing. 
We wanted to experiment in our silhouettes this season and have paired contemporary skirts and shirts with drapes, Kedia style shirts with maxi skirts, twist style sari dresses and kaftan sleeve inspired dresses. We wanted to ensure that the collection remained fun, relevant and most importantly would appeal to the global woman. We have also incorporated the use of hand embroidery and hand micro pleating into the styles –in particular metalwork, mirror work and thread embroidery.

Q: Micro-pleating appears very dear to your label. Tell us your first introduction to micro-pleating and what draws you towards it again and again?
As young girls wearing crushed dupattas or crushed lehengas, we always knew that was a technique that we wanted to make our own and really showcase in our garments. It makes the garments fall beautifully and effortlessly and is something so intrinsic to India that we felt it important to highlight it in a contemporary way. It is also such a highly skilled task and takes many man-hours to do, but the result is worth every painstaking hour.

Q: Your showstopper is Mrunal Thakur. How exciting was it to dress her up?
To have Mrunal as our showstopper was very exciting – she embodies grace and fierceness, and her style is impeccable. It was a pleasure to have her wear our creations.

Q: You started your label in 2016 and within four years, you have moved from Gen Next to Grand Finale. What made you start your label? How have you reinvented yourself over the last four years? 
From day one our goal was simple, we wanted to celebrate Indian prints, colour and embroideries in a more global way. For example, we adored our mothers’ and grandmothers’ ikat and patola saris but wished we could wear them in a more contemporary way, and thus the idea was born. Staying relevant is extremely important in this day and age and I think we have managed to somewhat do that by staying true to our core beliefs and values within the brand. We still strive for the same goals but every collection we try to experiment more, play with prints and surface textures more and constantly try to stay inspired and original in our designs.

Q: Among you, who brings what on the table at Saaksha & Kinni? What do you do if you are not on the same page? 
Kinni is more design orientated, she has a keen eye for colour, prints and shapes and concentrates on the Indian market. I have more of an eye for contemporary silhouettes and edgier styles and concentrate on the global aspect of work. We both try to demarcate our roles (Kinni takes care of production and I look into sales, PR, marketing and admin) but we both try to lend our voices to the core design. So far we have been lucky enough to agree on most things, but when it comes down to deciding whose opinion we go with, it usually comes down to that department, if it’s a design question Kinni takes the final call, anything else, it is me.

Q: Your ikat collection has been quite a hit? What do you think hit the right chord?
Yes, we are most proud of our ikat collection. I think women of all ages identify with the print, whether it is young girls who fondly look at their mother’s collection of saris or older women who have always worn it the traditional way. But I think now, the fact it can be worn to a brunch, a cards party or a sangeet is a refreshing take on what otherwise is a more conservative style of a silhouette.

Q: The last few months saw a lot of celebrities wearing your label. Did you connect with them strongly during the pandemic? What do you think is the highlight of your label? 
We are so fortunate that so many celebrities chose to wear us this year in what we otherwise thought would be a struggle. I think the colours, prints and relaxed styles have been easy to carry and comfortable to wear from home. I think the highlight is the prints and colours – our aim is that once you see a print of ours you should immediately recognize that it is as ours.


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Q: How were the last six-seven months for you, as individuals and as designers? How did the lockdown impact your label? 
The last few months have been a struggle in terms of both creativity and survival. As individuals, we are both mums to young boys so the struggle has been keeping them occupied indoors whilst also trying to work from home. As designers and businesswomen, it has been hard to keep up with salaries and rents with business coming to an almost standstill for a couple of months, but thankfully because of online sales, social media and a digital presence we have been lucky enough to survive and grow.

Q: Where are your artisans based? How challenging was/is the pandemic for them? What are some of the challenges that they usually face?
Most of our artisans are migrant workers and our primary concern was helping them get back to their villages safely. We organised cars for them and they went back in groups as we did not feel trains were a safe option. The pandemic has been incredibly tough for both them and their families, many of whom have young children to take care of. Those that were renting struggled to keep up with payments and those that went back to villages struggled to find work. We made sure we did the best we could with at the very least paying their salaries and as soon as it was safe to return to Mumbai we got them back and made sure there was enough work to keep them busy. It is so important to protect our craftsmen and their skills, we are fortunate in India to have these highly skilled workers and to sustain them should be at the forefront of all designers’ minds.

Q: Post-COVID, what do you think should be the way forward for the fashion industry?
I hope the way forward is going to a more responsible and ethical solution to fashion. I think the days of fast fashion are hopefully behind us and we as designers start making clothes that promote craftsmanship, artisans and limit our collections to not only two a year but control the number of pieces per collection so as to not contribute to landfill sites.


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Q: Do you think there is going to be a shift towards buying local?
Absolutely – I think not only is it our social responsibility to buy local, it is also the most sensible approach. We have so many talented artisans in our country that need support to preserve their crafts. We also have some of the most beautiful fabrics and embroideries in our country. I think it’s also important for communities to thrive by buying local in general, whether it’s fashion, groceries or art.

Quick questions:

1. A print you can’t get enough of: Ikat
2. A saying you swear by: Treat others the way in which you yourself would want to be treated
3. The biggest risk you took: Taking the traditional patola print and putting it on very contemporary silhouettes
4. A technique you had the most fun with: Micro pleating – hours of practising!
5. A city that inspires you the most: New York
6. Your label’s aesthetic in three words: Bold, experimental, luxe-boho
7. The most difficult decision to make was: Not give in and make bridal wear
8. The future is: being ethically more responsible and not taking fashion too seriously

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