PUNJAB, India — Sunita Devi, an embroiderer at 100Hands, was engaged on a shirt, her stitching so stunning that it prompted a praise from this reporter. Ms. Devi acknowledged it with a smile, earlier than turning her consideration again to the duty at hand.
Have been these floral patterns a nod to commissions by maharajahs who as soon as dominated this state? Or was this regional phulkari embroidery (a type of cross-stitch), made for a bridal trousseau and treasured for generations?
Neither, it turned out. Ms. Devi was stitching a buttonhole with almost invisible stitches. Each takes 40 minutes and has greater than 100 stitches per inch; different shirtmakers focusing on this sort of clothes would probably have 40 or 60. Every shirt takes as much as 35 hours to make, and tailoring aficionados who obsess over essentially the most exacting particulars in a cuff, a button-down collar or a hand-stitched hem have described 100Hands shirts as a number of the most interesting on the planet.
The burning yellow fields of Punjab are usually not the place you would possibly look forward to finding grasp patternmakers, cutters, tailors and embroiderers making the rarefied males’s put on often related to Savile Row or famend shirtmakers of France and Italy. But, at 100Hands’ spacious, well-lit manufacturing facility on the outskirts of the North Indian metropolis famed for its sacred golden temple that narrative is altering, one shirt at a time.
“Over eight years ago, we started with 20 artisans and five staff members,” stated Akshat Jain, 40, who together with his spouse, Varvara Jain, based 100Hands. “Today, we are 265 full-time employees.” They’re additionally planning to increase additional, with a brand new area.
Mohammad Samiriddin, a grasp sample cutter, has been making shirts for greater than 45 years and has been with 100Hands because the starting. “I could retire, but I don’t have any desire to do so,” he stated. As a substitute, he prefers to spend his days reducing exact patterns and coaching a brand new technology of artisans.
“He is a true master of his craft, able to see how the nuances of a pattern should be adapted to fit a customer perfectly,” Ms. Jain, 38, stated.
Paul Fournier, a contributor to The Rake, a males’s fashion journal in London, describes himself as “merely a craftsmanship and tailoring enthusiast who tried quite a few makers.”
“Obviously, craftsmanship isn’t the only factor, and fit is paramount,” Mr. Fournier stated. “An ill-fitting beautiful garment doesn’t make anyone look good.”
Simon Crompton, who writes about traditional tailoring for the Permanent Style web site, stated that what makes 100Hands distinctive is the quantity of handwork that goes into every shirt.
“Handmade shirt skills have died out in North Italy, France and the U.K.,” he stated. “There is still some hand-sewing in Naples, but the vast majority is not at the same level as 100Hands.”
He added that these abilities don’t cease at ornamental buttonholes. Additionally they imply the collars and cuffs, essential practical elements of shirts that decide match, and are higher made when initially reduce and sewn on a circle by hand reasonably than by a machine. The shirts value $345 to $450 and up relying on whether or not the shirt is customized and the additional handwork in sure particulars.
The 100Hands founders are based mostly in Amsterdam. Mr. Jain’s household has owned a cotton spinning and yarn buying and selling enterprise in Punjab for greater than 160 years, and it seeded the concept for a shirt-making firm of their very own. The Jains labored at an funding banking agency within the Netherlands however gave up their high-flying careers.
“There were two options,” Mr. Jain stated. “Make a generic-quality product and compete on prices, or make something so wonderful that the ‘where it is made’ tag has no relevance.” They didn’t know that the “made in” tag was generally extra necessary than the product itself, he stated. “We were just focused on making something special. So knowing less about the competition turned out to be a good thing here.”
Mark Cho, the founding father of the Armoury males’s shops in New York and Hong Kong, which shares 100Hands shirts, famous that different international locations had much more expertise on this specific shirtmaking craft and its advertising and marketing. “British, Italian and French clothing has had decades, if not a century, of global respect and admiration, whereas Indian brands simply don’t have that history.” he stated.
He added: “It is a shame since if you go further back to the 1700s and 1800s — India was one of the most important producers of cotton and cotton cloth both in terms of quantity and quality. Also, fine handwork has been in its culture for a long, long time.”
The Jains have encountered prejudice, together with one potential purchaser who abruptly ended a name and unfollowed the corporate on Instagram (the final word fashionable slight) after studying 100Hands made its shirts in India. There’s a widespread notion that “Made in India” usually means fast-fashion provide chain practices, together with youngster labor and sweatshops.
Actually, 100Hands is audited by Fair Wear, which is thought for its in-country crew of unbiased specialists who measure not solely working circumstances, but in addition buying practices, a manufacturing facility’s administration methods, and worker-management communication. Ms. Jain stated that wages at 100Hands are effectively above what the state mandates, and that workers get advantages equivalent to medical insurance.
“Their work is good by anyone’s standard,” Mr. Cho stated. “People will eventually come to realize that.”
However can a small Indian firm compete with Savile Row, with French savoir-faire and Italian aptitude, with their storied histories and branding energy? Many customers cling to the concept of European provenance, but there’s additionally a way that issues are breaking up and coming collectively in new formations.
“There is a lot of snobbery about the Row and Britain in general, but they invented snobbery, after all, and they’re quite charming at it,” Mr. Fournier stated.
Savile Row persists because the epitome of males’s tailoring, tied up within the exclusivity of bespoke work and concepts of English heritage. However many legacy Savile Row tailors have been snapped up by Asian conglomerates or — in a single case, a Belgium-based hedge fund — and a few are increasing into ready-to-wear traces that go far past their authentic remit of bespoke suiting.
As well as, the pandemic led some Savile Row tailors to shut their outlets, together with the 140-year-old Kilgour, which now operates solely on-line. And rumors swirl a couple of Marks & Spencer buyout of the 250-year-old Gieves & Hawkes.
However 100Hands isn’t simply competing with Savile Row; it’s additionally a companion. For six years, it has been supplying shirts to Chittleborough & Morgan that entice a cultish loyalty. “We are just gentlemen’s tailors, and the same is true for Akshat,” stated Joe Morgan, a founding father of the store.
However why doesn’t Chittleborough & Morgan make its personal shirts?
Mr. Morgan stated that it was a definite ability from tailoring, “so we specialize, as 100Hands does with their shirts,.”
“The hand skills are different, the machines and irons are different,” he stated. “In tailoring, we bully the fabric to mold it to a body we are creating. It is about illusion and manipulation of materials. Shirtmakers don’t create a body but rather work with it. It’s a softer discipline.”
“We are not a pompous company we are just a gentlemen’s tailors, and the same is true for 100Hands, there are no bells and whistles,” he added. “It’s just a very finely crafted garment.”