Inspired by Scandinavian minimalism and the quality prevalent in Japanese utilitarian workwear, AK Threads creates clothes in editions rather collections. With the subtle symbiosis of functionality and playfulness in mind, the young fashion enterprise, in essence, communicates consciousness and the intention behind it. The young label also aims to support marginalised communities in Rajasthan, India, and make their diligent craft more relevant in the modern context. Savant spoke to Gracie Laine, founder of AK Threads label with high moral code of conduct.
Words: Hanna-Amanda Pant
How did you find your way to slow fashion and creating your own label AK Threads?
I’ve always been interested in ethical fashion and how we can utilise fashion to create a more positive impact both socially and environmentally. I began backpacking a lot around Asia after graduating university with a fashion degree. It was back then when I saw the direct correlation and impact our purchases had on others and our environment. This awareness lead me to go work in Rajasthan, India, for one year, whereas I was working directly with artisans, seamstresses and tailors for a women’s NGO. I experienced first-hand the skills and effort required to produce garments of high quality, and the positive effect sustainable wages had on local communities and individuals.
After observing various artisans in rural parts of Western India, my appreciation for skills, such as weaving and printing, grew. I realised these materials not only provided economic support; but the techniques were extremely eco-friendly, using minimal water wastage, natural dyes and no carbon emissions. This was the catalyst to me starting my own label — I wanted to unite my desire for a clean, yet bold capsule wardrobe, with high quality slow-made fabrics that supported local communities in the process.
What allures you about the fashion industry and what are the main pain points you'd like to address?
I love fashion and I think clothing is such an important part of how we express ourselves and our personal identities. I truly believe a killer outfit can give you so much more self-confidence. However, I also believe the fashion industry has the power and responsibility to create a positive impact for the manufactures and the planet, as much as it enhances the customer.
AK Threads aims to provide affordable and desirable ethical clothing, as I’ve often felt ethical fashion is unobtainable for most of the modern market. Our personal pain points are to provide economic support to rural artisans, whilst providing customers with well-made, long-lasting and functional clothing with a point of difference.
What is AK Thread's manifesto in a nutshell?
Our manifesto is to unite the traditional Indian techniques with original and contemporary methods. We want our clothing to impact the makers and the customers, but less the planet. We believe ethical fashion doesn’t mean compromising on style or expenses. And also that clothing should be produced by happy and valued garment manufactures and artisans. We believe that, for fashion to be sustainable, we need to be more conscious about our purchases.
"I think we should love our clothing and have an ongoing dialogue and story with them."
Where does the unique brand name derive from?
Our brand name derives from a Sanskrit term meaning consciousness and the intention behind it. We shortened it with a play on words, as threads can often be referred to as clothing.
This summer you were assisting in an ethical factory in Kenya. What were your responsibilities? What perhaps surprised and what shocked you the most about Africa?
I wanted to gain and further my understanding and knowledge of ethical practise by working for other manufacturing units and seeing other countries and different companies’ ways of working. This particular factory is well known in terms of its ethical practise, and it was really great for me to gain a further insight into how things are run on a larger scale. I think, the more knowledgeable businesses are about supply chains, manufacturing procedures, and how other businesses provide sustainable and ethical products, the better.
Whilst I was there, I helped aid with production within the factory and did a few community training projects — teaching pattern-cutting, for example. I also helped to set up a training for women to make reusable sanitary pads that would help provide the local community of women with sustainable feminine hygiene solution. The women taught to make the pads could then sell them on to their local community of females. I really feel passionate about providing individuals with skills; to not only empower them and others, but to give them the opportunity to earn a sustainable wage, too.
What shocked me the most was probably that I wasn’t shocked. There’s so much stigma about Africa being unsafe, however, I found everyone to be so welcoming and friendly. Everyone would always offer help whenever you needed it.
Who would be your ideal female muse AK Threads represents?
It’s hard to choose one particular muse, because AK Threads tries to be all-encompassing when it comes to our designs and garments. We design our clothes with the intention that we have no age limits or muse, because so often the fashion industry isn’t inclusive of the wonderful diversity of females out there.
However, we imagine the AK customer to be slightly deviating. Someone who uses clothing to express both her individual style and her morals. Our inspiration comes from all over, including British street style, Japanese and Scandinavian simplicity and vintage cuts. Our current style crush at the moment is Instagram babe @stylememos, as she always looks effortless, elegant, and she transforms her garments through different occasions, which is completely our own design philosophy. We’d love to see her representing one of our garments one day.
"There’s so much stigma about Africa being unsafe, however, I found everyone to be so welcoming and friendly. Everyone would always offer help whenever you needed it."
You're closely working with Indian communities. What led you to starting sustainable production in India? Does it also cover an important social and regional mission, e.g. helping local communities in India?
Rural Indian communities are often low in the caste system — they struggle to provide their families with an income and women are often regarded as second class citizens, who are not able to receive equal opportunities.
Whilst I was visiting rural villages throughout Rajasthan, I realised many of the villages had a lot of artisanal skills and were creating beautiful handwoven fabrics, block prints and embroidery, but had no access to a modern market, and therefore the communities were struggling. I wanted to utilise these traditions in a contemporary way and provide these communities with urbanisation for their products. And through that, to support females with skills, development and employment.
"We’ve become far too impulsive with our purchases, and I myself have often thought I have so many clothes, but so little to wear."
What are the main benefits of well-made and enduring, seasonless garments that your clothing line also represents? Are there any interesting techniques applied within production?
Too often clothing at present ends up in landfills due to being poorly made and no longer on trend after a few weeks. We’ve become far too impulsive with our purchases, and I myself have often thought I have so many clothes, but so little to wear.
I wanted to design and create garments with longevity in mind. That should leave customers feeling they have an endless supply of clothing in terms of how they style them. And these clothes could adapt through seasons and occasions, without you having to keep reinvesting in clothing, spending lots of money and disposing of unwanted items. I think we should love our clothing and have an ongoing dialogue and story with them.
Our clothing takes into consideration the environment, not only due to our long-lasting manufacture, but with many of the techniques chosen in our supply chain. Our fabrics are all handspun and handwoven, which means every garment is a piece of art. This technique is produced without electricity and takes great precision and skill — it takes a number of days to even set up the loom, and then around 40 days to weave our fabrics for each collection. All our garments are hand-dyed with natural plant dyes and the water is always reused for agriculture, which means less water wastage.
How important is the future of sustainable clothing industry? In your opinion, where is the fashion industry heading?
I think the future of sustainable clothing is so important. In today’s world, we need be more conscious of our purchases, to lessen the equality gap in countries and to try and not damage our environment any further. I think this generation has a responsibility to create solutions that make a difference. We’re becoming more aware of the impacts we have on others and the planet, and how it affects us all globally.
I think major fashion brands and fashion houses should follow suit. After all, they are the one of the most powerful industries, in terms of the message they convey and in the diversity of people they influence. If they followed by example, they could potentially change the way we currently purchase and identify with our clothing. However, I do believe that change is beginning to happen, more people are beginning to ask questions about where their clothes are made, and want more staple items that last a long time. The desire for a capsule wardrobe is becoming more popular. And I think, with the rise of social media and smaller businesses being more accessible, people are turning towards supporting local and independent brands with an ethical ethos.
What are the influences your next collection carries forward?
The next edition has been heavily influenced by Japanese functional clothing and work wear, the range will be much more diverse in its garment selection — mixing subtle feminine shapes with more androgynous oversize cuts. You can look forward to more exciting new handwoven fabrics and the story of the processes being documented on our next trip to India.