I'm getting pretty excited about the growing denim scene around the world right now: I remember hearing rumblings about Pronto in Thailand maybe 4-5 years ago and thinking "Wow, a denim scene in Bangkok, who knew!". We all know that scene is pretty established now and growing by the day. I've STILL not visited but its on my 2016 bucket list for sure.
I heard about India through a great denim dudette friend of mine Anu who is Indian but lives in Hong Kong, she sent me Korra's website amongst a few other weavers and artisans and it looked pretty legit. I get sent a lot of 'authentic denim brand' sites and these days, only a few of them really strike me as impressive but Korra definitely did: the brand is founded by four pretty knowledgable individuals:
Shyam Sukhramani, a Levi's alumni, having worked with the brand for 17 years, Himanshu Shani who established the label 11.11 with Mia Morikawa, creative director of 11.11 and Rajesh Jaju who has been a retailer and distributor in Delhi since 1992, establishing brands such as Levi's, Flying Machine, Polo, etc. Not so long ago they reached out to me and so I decided to ask Shyam and the team a few questions about their operation, the Indian denim scene and their denim life in New Delhi. So without further ado, check out Korra, India!
Where and when was Korra founded?
Our Company – Goodpeople Clothing Company, was incorporated in Aug 2013 and KORRA.in went live on Jun 12, 2013. Our Studio and Workspace is based in an industrial neighborhood in New Delhi – Okhla. It’s from here we service all our customers around the world, having shipped to customers from 16 countries including India in a short span of 16 months.
A couple of the founders are previously from Levi's: how did you all meet and where did the idea develop from?
Shyam Sukhramani, our founder, spent 17+ years in Levi’s. He returned from SF in April 2012 and joined a start-up, which was acquired towards the end of 2012 and in December 2012, he seeded the idea to build an online brand from India that would reach users worldwide. He brought all the co-founders together having worked with them in the past in different capacities. Rajesh Jaju has known Shyam for 14 years since 2001 when he became the distributor for Levi’s in Delhi. Himanshu Shani who founded his own label 11-11, knew Shyam from 2007 when he was brought in to consult Levi’s to build a premium denim line for Levi’s Red Loop. Mia Morikawa, who joined Himanshu in 2011 to drive 11-11 and their design company, also resonated with the idea of Goodpeople and KORRA and became an integral part of the founding team.
The ideology of the company and brand is a response to the increasing consumption levels around the world. We want to contribute in making consumers aware of the product, it’s origin, it’s use and importantly it’s maker as we believe that with this insight and connectivity the lifecycle of products will increase and in turn will reduce the levels of waste. In summary by making conscious choices we can make life better :)
Arriving at this ideology is a collective effort wherein the founders brought their individual experiences and beliefs and contributed to building it out.
One person makes each jean from beginning to end. How long does one jean make and can you tell us a little more about why you decided to run your manufacturing like this?
The amount of time taken to make a pair is function of the skill of the tailor, the most skilled artisans can make about 2 pairs a day and the beginners make a pair in slightly over a day. We believe that this significant departure from mass manufacturing is necessary to bring the user closer to the maker and keeps the maker close to his or her craft. Each product is signed by the tailor and numbered uniquely ensuring traceability. The integrity within products made in such a way translates into a feeling which is understood immediately and is beyond words.
Focusing on a single product and building a process that minimizes waste are our markers to build a sustainable long term business model.
Does your small factory make jeans for other brands?
We make only KORRA products in our workshop, although we have been approached to manufacture other brand products :)
Where do you source the denim from?
Our current sources of denim are India and Italy. In India our primary source is Raymond UCO Denim and in Italy it is Candiani Denim.
Tell us more about the natural dyes you use.
Our assortment of fabrics is chosen with one filter – is it sustainable and does it support the cotton farmer. We have fabrics that have been dyed with Natural Indigo as well as Synthetic Indigo. The cotton used to make the denim is either organic or in the minimum blended with better cotton.
Natural Indigo is caked and sourced from farms in the southern part of India. Raymond works directly to procure this and make the denim for us and other customers
You also have a re-made line, is this recycled or made from surplus fabrics? I'd like to know more.
Remade is an effort to maximize the utilization of all our resources. There are 3 tiers in Remade.
The first tier is products made from past pieces. Tailor training is a 3 month process and involves the making of sample pairs that might not necessarily meet all our quality standards. These samples are unused and not shipped. They are opened up and all the parts/panels are re-sewn into the original width fabric, which is utilized like a fresh fabric would to make limited edition pieces.
The second tier is products made from leftover fabric, that is not live yet. In cutting and making fresh pairs/pieces the fabric utilization is 85-90%. The leftover fabric is cut into smaller squares and patchworked panels are made. These are utilized to make bags and other products that we mostly use in-house, like pouffes or panels for screens.
The third tier is paper made from unusable denim and thread bits. We collect all the waste generated in our workshop and work with an artisanal handmade paper and craft company that converts this into paper. We then use this paper for packaging or other day-to-day activities.
On the site we have launched the first tier, the other two tiers will follow soon!
You are very transparent about the cost of your jeans to make and the retail value, what more can be done to help educate people about the cost of making their garments?
We are a small and recent company and we do manufacturing ourselves, hence we have setup to be transparent from the get go. Akin to the many global initiatives that have brought about awareness of organic cotton or fair-trade or ethical fashion, if a global initiative for transparent manufacturing is built roping in retailers, manufacturers and suppliers, then it would be the start of a magical future!! It’s extremely challenging for multinational large companies that outsource most of their manufacturing to build transparency as it involves major process shifts and setting up of monitoring systems for transparency. If a few leading brands and retailers setup a charter for transparency and share the costs it will provide the necessary ammunition for social sharing and spreading awareness.
What is your opinion on mass-production? Is there a place for it or do you believe locally made is the only way forward to head into the future?
There is definitely a place for mass production as it is efficient from a time and cost standpoint and provides employment to a large workforce. In a connected world staying only local is next to impossible. Hence the model or framework we are working on is to build a template that can be implemented locally and enabled centrally.
Can you let me know a little more about the Indian denim scene: is it growing? Are people into their raw and rigid jeans?
The Indian Denim scene is very young and developing moderately. Unlike developed jeans markets where raw and selvedge jeans led by independent labels and specialty retailers is fast approaching mainstream, in India raw and selvedge is niche. I was very surprised (and happy!) to see selvedge in Zara and H&M recently, however none of the mainstream Indian or International brands carry selvedge or raw jeans in their assortment. KORRA is a first mover in this space and we want to do our bit to make users aware of the longevity and personal nature of a pair of raw jeans.