Kardo: A Conversation with Rikki Kher
Calum: Tell us a little about Kardo, where you’re from, the heritage of the brand and what it means to you.
Rikki: I am originally from London of Indian descent. I moved to India in 2004 and worked in garment sourcing and production for large retailers. I started making clothes for myself and got very interested in craft textiles. I wanted to showcase the beauty of Indian traditional textiles and thought about in menswear, as I like clothes and it wasn’t being done by anyone else. I also was interested in looking at traditional processes, artisanal textiles, slow production methods and transparency of the supply chain.
Calum: What is the process when selecting the fabrics you work with?
Rikki: We look at craft techniques and decide which ones we want to work with for the collection. Normally, we highlight one craft technique per season, but use many in the collection. Then we contact/visit artisans and start to build a collection of textiles.
Calum: What does Kardo stand for? (both literally and metaphorically).
Rikki: It is an abbreviation and play on my name. Rikki which became Riccardo and then Kardo. It’s a little nod to my younger years, and it’s short and not my name.
Calum: You have a lot of interesting unique prints, can you talk us through the design and production process?
Rikki: We only work with hand-processed printing methods. So it’s block printing techniques from different regions in India, like Rajasthan and Ajrakh in Gujarat. Designs are normally traditional motifs and are worked into new ideas and colours. We work closely with Anokhi, who is the leading exponent of original block prints in India, so we have access to their thousands of original print archives to work with.
Calum: Do you remember the moment that you realized that you became interested in craft textiles and did this play a part in your initial move to India?
Rikki: I have worked in textiles since early 1993 when I left NYC, then got into fashion retailing so was always looking at interesting brands that had some clear identity for our store. I moved to India because I was offered a job, but for the preceding 12 years, I had been visiting India as often as I could and it had had a profound effect on me. During the 90s I dreamed of moving to India. Then when I finally moved to India in 2004, I began understanding textiles more, and when I started the brand, I was interested in doing the opposite of fast fashion, so began looking deeper into craft textiles to complement the other parts of the slow fashion philosophy I wanted to use. I wanted to showcase what India could offer the world in terms of textiles and craftsmanship. Nobody was doing that in menswear. Nobody was actively promoting artisanal textiles or crafts from India. I started slowly with handloom and khadi denim, moving into other crafts each season, complementing what we had done before, but pushing the boat further and further.
Calum: When working with artisans is it a one-off thing or do you also plan to work with them again in future seasons and see their product/collections grow through Kardo?
Rikki: We continue to work with all the artisans we work with initially. As the brand grows, the artisans get more work from us. It is imperative that we invest in the artisan and his/her skill so that they can feel confident that we can create a strong partnership and ask them to try new things. Since starting with some artisans, where our first order was 100m, we are now weaving up to 2000m on some items. For other artisans, we are using their skills in new designs each season, often allowing them to be part of the creative process.
Calum: You mention having access to the thousands of prints, is this accessible to all or are these prints now exclusive to Kardo?
Rikki: I have an exclusive partnership with Anokhi, one of India’s leading block printing companies. We design a collection of pieces for their stores in India and I have exclusive rights to use the prints in my collections overseas. I get to delve into their archive for this work and work with them on new designs or updated versions of old patterns.
Calum: Do you think we will ever see Kardo have its own brick-and-mortar store somewhere around the world?
Rikki: We would love to do that. We have been thinking about this all year and hope to finalise something for 2024. London would be ideal, as I am from there originally, so it’s home (away from home).
You can now shop the latest Kardo collection online at HHV.