India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
October 12, 2017

Kishmish Creates Garments That Take You Back To A Happy Childhood

Text by Shubham Ladha

“We don’t work to be in fashion or in vogue. It’s just being.”

With a name that evokes nostalgia, Kishmish was created out of a love for the small joys that aren’t easy to find as we grow up, but which can be translated somehow. Having come from similar backgrounds, founders Nikki Kalia and Rekha Bhatia try to share this happiness with comfort-oriented clothing with a simple, stylish aesthetic. Call it luck or destiny, they both recognised the need for handcrafted clothing in the market and have since grown with each other to spread their vision of natural and organic fashion and the need to support the livelihood of rural Indian craftsmen.

We sat down with Kishmish’s Nikki Kalia to delve into her design mind…

Let’s start with the conspicuous name itself, why ‘Kishmish’?
The inception of the name belongs to my business partner, Rekha Bhatia, and I. When we were children, our grandparents would say, “Seva karoge toh meva milega!”, which meant ‘If you serve, you shall be rewarded’. I used to ask, “Meva kya hota hai?”, implying I wouldn’t serve if I didn’t know what my reward was. One fine day, my maternal grandmother brought out this jar of dry fruits. She dug her hand inside, pulled out a fistful of raisins and said, “This is your treat! This is your meva!” Rekha’s maternal grandmother would also give her raisins as treats. That’s how we connected our common dots and used it as our name.

How do these memories connect with the brand you’ve founded?
It’s mostly to capture and portray the happiness we felt as children. It’s about the kind of clothes we want to wear; the ones we can’t find anywhere in the market. One can reward oneself or another by wearing the simplest garments. Everything ties back to how we were rewarded when we were young and the simple joy that it brought us.

How did you and your partner meet?
Rekha’s husband and I were very close friends, so we were eventually introduced to each other. She asked me to do business with her but I initially refused, saying, “We can’t do business as friends.” Soon after, we prepared a list of the pros and cons of doing business with each other. The former outweighed the latter and we got into business. We’ve been around for a while but really waltzed into the limelight between 2008 and 2009.

What was the ideology behind creating this brand?
It all started with creating clothes with clean and simple aesthetics for ourselves because we couldn’t find them anywhere else. When we began wearing them frequently, people liked our designs more than we expected, so we started catering to them too. Before long, some stalls approached us and we got on board with them; the growth was really organic. Before we knew it, we were already a brand. Rekha and I are both from textile backgrounds, she being a weaver and me, a printer. That’s why it is such an organic confluence, as we’re working with other weavers and NGOs.

Walk us through the design process, from the idea to the hanger.
If we decide to steer the brand in a particular direction, it has to be fine by both Rekha and I. There’s so much embroidery already out there, but that’s not Kishmish’s identity. We try to play with different textures and use them as our embellishments. We’re always looking to incorporate carefully sourced organic prints.

At the moment, we use the scratch as an embellishment. It’s done by the pedal-sewing machine and our karigars like to do that, so we like it too. In a way, they’re also inclusive to the design process. Each piece also has silk button-loops in different colours. The Khadis that we use are pre-washed. All processes are in-house; our washing, ironing, and fabric construction. Nothing is outsourced.

We don’t use electric sewing machines. It’s not as though we deprive ourselves of the basic comforts of life, but we try to be conscious in simple and small ways. We don’t don’t use any motorised machinery to do our work. There’s no washing machine that’s going to wash my yardage. We handwash it.

Right till the end, when we’re prototyping, Rekha and I both wear the garments and sometimes look at it for days before knowing what we want to do with it. It’s a part of that collective conscience and thinking.

What prompted you to work with different NGOs?
It was a natural decision to recognise and support the weavers and their crafts. Women and female weavers are a huge part of our existence, so to speak. Working and exchanging ideas with them as well as showcasing their products with our designs, it all happened rather instinctively.

Can you describe your brand’s aesthetic?
I think it’s clean and classic. We don’t work to be in fashion or in vogue. It’s just being. We’re just here for the wearers. The idea is to be able to repeat the clothes, thereby doing justice to the whole concept of weaving, the craft and the effort that has been invested.

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